The Skinny

PATROLLING IN PLACE: Last week a Border Patrol agent in Douglas was knocked unconscious when a rock the size of an adobe brick came through his vehicle's window. Sources in the Border Underground say the agent may have been out cold for 10 minutes. When he came to, his vehicle was stalled against a small berm. The agent called for assistance, but no one pulled off the line for backup except two other agents on detail from San Diego.

When a law enforcement officer puts out a call for assistance the usual custom on this planet is for everyone to drop whatever they're doing and rush to the officer in need. Apparently that works in every law enforcement shop in the country but the Tucson Sector of the U.S. Border Patrol.

Chief Patrol Agent David Aguilar, or Honest Ag, as the troops call him, has again endeared himself to the men and women on the line by issuing a standing order for all agents to remain on their Xs (fixed positions) unless it's an emergency.

Apparently, a call for assistance isn't an emergency for this lame-ass bunch of law enforcement wannabes. Unfortunately, this case is not an anomaly.

EMERGENCY RESPONSE: The state Auditor's General Office came down on the Amphi School District last week with a report determining that the district failed to solicit competitive sealed bids for construction and security work that totaled more than a half-million dollars.

The work was related to the district's lengthy fight to build a new high school in an area where state biologists had been monitoring an endangered pygmy owl.

Between March 1998 and December 1999, the district blew $290,994 on security guards to ensure that nobody planted evidence of pygmy owls on the school property. That was nearly 10 times the legal limit of $30,000 for an expenditure that doesn't require a sealed bid. Although Amphi officials claimed they got two written price quotations, there was no documentation of that price comparison. That comes as no surprise to anyone who has followed Amphi's sloppy record-keeping.

After the U.S. Court of Appeals gave the go-ahead for Amphi to build the school, Amphi Associate Superintendent Katie Frey rushed to clear the land before environmental groups could get another injunction to halt construction. In doing so, she declared an emergency to dodge normal procurement regulations for the services, which cost a total of $181,905. The construction companies were paid an additional $55,137 for unauthorized changes. That figure includes $22,260 paid to a salvage company because Amphi officials were so eager to start clearing land that they had the construction company on standby the day before the injunction preventing construction was lifted.

The Skinny thought that emergency declaration was bogus when it occurred. The Auditor General's Office now agrees, saying that Frey "improperly authorized two emergency procurements for construction services and failed to adequately inform the governing board."

The Auditor General's Office did not call for any punishment for the violations. But then, although Frey is still employed as an associate superintendent, most of the other players are gone. Since the violations, former Amphi Superintendent Bob "Bubba" Smith has quit and been replaced by Superintendent Vicki Balentine, who responded to the findings by promising to follow proper procedures in the future.

Amphi voters, meanwhile, delivered their response in the district by dumping the board majority in a recall election last May that saw Gary Woodard, Virginia Houston and Richard Scott replaced by Mike Prout, Kent Barrabee and Mary Schuh. Prout and Barrabee, along with board member Nancy Young Wright, won re-election to four-year terms on November 7.

LEGISLATIVE MERRY-GO-ROUND: Looks like Senate President Randall Gnant has picked his chief of staff: Mike Gardner, the Tempe Republican who lost his re-election bid to the House of Representatives last month.

Gardner is a savvy pick. He has good relationships with many House members. Until his unexpected defeat, he was preparing to fight Rep. Jim Weiers for Speaker of the House. Weiers, one of the legislative members who purchased more than one alt-fuel vehicle in recent months, has grabbed the Speaker's post. Although a minority of Republicans would be happy to see him go, it looks like he's going to hang in.

Gnant cut a deal with Democrats in the evenly split Senate to win the top post. He'll need someone with Gardner's connections to work with House conservatives who are pissed at what they see as Gnant's treasonous behavior. And while he's more moderate than some of the Kool-Aid drinkers in the legislature, Gardner has the conservative credentials you'd expect from a Mormon from the East Valley.

Gardner also enjoys good relations with the press, which has been drooling over Gnant since he pulled off his power play. Editorial scribes have heaped similar praise on Gardner in the recent past, particularly during the special session called by Gov. Jane Dee Hull to ask voters to increase the state sales tax by .6 cents to boost education spending. Voters approved the plan last month.

GAS BILL: As the state struggles to climb out of the alt-fuel mess, Gov. Jane Dee Hull's Vision 21 transportation task force is extending its deadline for a final report on Arizona's transportation needs.

Some estimates place the cost of Arizona's transportation needs over the next 20 years at more than $70 billion--but we think that includes a legislative program covering the cost of converting ordinary autos into flying cars.

Whatever the final price tag, the state will probably need a new revenue stream--in all likelihood, either an increase in the sales tax or the gas tax. (Although, given the aforementioned alt-fuel fiasco, we doubt voters are much in the mood to approve either one.)

We'd vote for the gas tax alternative, as long as the dollars are distributed back to counties of origin rather than put toward building more freeways in Maricopa. The sales tax, already inching higher with the .6-cent education tax passed by voters earlier this month, is a regressive tax that hits low-income Arizonans harder than the wealthy.

While a gas tax is similarly regressive, it's the easiest way to make those who drive the most foot the bill for roadwork. While gas prices aren't as low as they were in 1999, they're still a bargain compared to most developed nations. Besides, we've noticed that the first people to bitch about fuel costs are the ones who buy gas-sucking monstrous SUVs. Hey, they drive like they own the road--let 'em pay for it.

COMIC RELIEF: We could hardly lift that bulky Sunday edition of the Arizona Daily Star this week. With more than 600 pages, it was the fattest issue they'd ever pumped through the press. Of course, we only saw about four interesting stories in those 600 pages, but we're sure smart shoppers found plenty of bargains to blow the old Christmas bonus on.

The Sunday edition also contained the finals of the Star's comics survey. We were personally delighted to see Cathy and her ill-fitting swimsuits finally get the ax.

Curious reader Ted Feragne wrote to features editor Debbie Kornmiller requesting the Star run some "edgier" comics. "Couldn't you bring back --'Tom Tomorrow' (or is it titled 'Troubletown'?)," asked Feragne. Kornmiller's response: "Find some friends who like edgy as well and get them to vote in 2002."

If we may add to that, we'd like to point out that the Star couldn't bring back those strips, because the paper has never run them. The edgy strips Ted desires are found right here in the pages of our journal. That means Ted and the rest of our readers get 'em for free every week. Comics Queen Debbie could have 'fessed up about that, but if she were to reveal the superior nature of our funnies, the Star's circulation would undoubtedly take another nosedive.

To clarify a bit further for Ted, Tom Tomorrow is the nom de plume of Dan Perkins, who draws "This Modern World," which has been appearing in these pages since the last Bush administration. The most recent collection of "This Modern World," When Penguins Attack (St. Martin's Press), is now in bookstores everywhere, just in time for Christmas. It joins previous collections of Tomorrow's work, including Greetings from This Modern World, Tune in Tomorrow, The Wrath of Sparky and Penguin Soup for the Soul. A sizzling 21st-century animated version of "This Modern World" can be found online at

"Troubletown," meanwhile, is the laugh-out-loud product of the twisted genius of Lloyd Dangle. It appears each week in our City Week listings. Dangle also has a collection, Next Stop: Troubletown, which would make a wonderful stocking stuffer.

And, while we're plugging our favorite edgy cartoonists, local sicko Max Cannon also has a few "Red Meat" collections available: Red Meat and More Red Meat. And always-fashionable "Red Meat" T-shirts--including one gorgeous glow-in-the-dark edition--are available at

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