The Skinny

CONTRACTUAL OBFUSCATION: The recent flap raised by Pima County Transportation Director Brooks Keenan charging his boss, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, with taking care of select engineering contracts for a couple of members of the Board of Supervisors is a classic example of a non-story standing on artificial limbs.

Keenan clearly missed his calling. With the ability to spin what began as an inquiry into why his department had thoroughly botched the Thornydale Road widening and other county projects into an investigation of his own boss, Keenan would make a great White House aide or weekend talking head. Note that not much is being said about the Thornydale screw-up, as the new charges pushed it off center stage.

While we would love to join certain ranting and puffing talk-show hosts in decrying massive corruption in county government, Keenan is clearly covering his own ass; the charges he's made consist of naming exactly four engineering contracts worth somewhere around $2 million granted over the last six years to select campaign contributors of Supervisors Dan Eckstrom and Raúl Grijalva. Excuse us, but 20 years ago, the supes would hand out more pork than that at one meeting. Compared to prior boards, these folks behave like a bunch of nuns. Well, maybe more like confused penguins.

Much of the problem emanates from the board's so-called "non-interference" policy passed over 10 years ago and designed to prevent then-Supervisor Ed Moore from poking into the workings of county departments. As it was not only aimed at Moore, but regarded as one more way to remove the politics from politicians, the two daily papers positively slobbered over it. Supervisors Grijalva and Eckstrom went along, the former because it seemed liberal and the latter because he figured he could work around it. The two then-GOP supes, Reg Morrison and Greg Lunn, jumped on. Lunn, probably the laziest man ever to serve in what is clearly not that hard a job, liked reducing his workload even further, while Morrison was usually clueless and supported staff and their recommendations.

So the Board of Supervisors became the Board of Onlookers by institutionalizing non-feasance. They set a dangerous trend culminating in their removing not only themselves but even their own CEO--Huckelberry--from a role in managing Kino Hospital a few years back, a decision that cost the taxpayers millions of dollars.

They also clearly illustrated the fundamental error in the oft-used epithet "power-hungry politician." Most politicians aren't power hungry--quite the opposite. They prefer being able to have an excuse for their non-performance, the bigger the better. And most are simply too craven to steal.

The net result of this has been that the day-to-day patronage decisions once reserved for those who had won an election have gone, by default, to the bureaucracy. Now the faceless folks two or three ranks down get to fix the contracts, hire their friends and maybe even pocket an occasional bribe.

Which is why Huckelberry has garnered so much power. If he hadn't, somebody else would have because power fills vacuums. And if he didn't have an agenda, it is doubtful if the current batch of supes could name one between them. Requests for pork are minimal by comparison to prior boards and Keenan--who has been with the county for years--knows it.

Currently Huckelberry and the Board are under investigation--at Huck's request, it should be noted--by two outside agencies, including the FBI, from what we hear. They are expected to wrap things up quickly because there isn't much to investigate.

And Keenan knows it, which we suspect is why he told the Tucson Citizen's Blake Morlock that "There are two sets of issues -- one is, were there any laws broken? And the other is whether good public policy was followed. I hope the investigations consider both of these aspects."

Huh? Excuse us, Brooks, but when in the hell did the FBI or any other law-enforcement agency become charged with investigating the quality of public policy?

HAIRY FOR JERRY: It appears Ward 3 City Councilman Jerry Anderson may have at least one re-election challenge on his hands.

Republican Kathleen Dunbar appears ready to take on Anderson. A few weeks back, phone psychic Mistress Cleo told us Dunbar would not be jumping into the Ward 3 City Council race against Anderson, but her forecast may have been wrong. Dunbar, a one-term state House member who lost a state Senate race against Democrat Andy Nichols last year, hasn't made an official announcement, but she has pulled papers from the City Clerk's Office and is assembling a campaign team.

WHOOPS, IGNORED THAT LAW: Last summer, in its rush to evict students from the low-cost Christopher City housing complex, the University of Arizona hurriedly handed out checks to those involved. The money was to cover relocation expenses and the higher cost of finding a comparable living unit.

Unfortunately for many of those affected, the amount provided was not nearly enough to pay for more expensive living arrangements. But most of the students took the money and ran, never knowing that state law gave them some protections from being short-changed.

Not only was the university legally obligated to ensure the students could afford comparable housing, but they were also required by state law to have an appeals process to UA President Peter Likins in place. Of course, the university fulfilled neither of those requirements, choosing instead to take the attitude: "Here's some money, now hit the road!"

But a few of the displaced residents of Christopher City knew their legal rights and held out for what was due them. Others refused to take anything, demanding that the appeals process be established first.

Now, five months after the last person reluctantly left the complex, the university has gotten around to trying to notify former residents that they have finally established the legally required appeals process. In a sappy January 19 letter, Likins informed them they have one month to submit their appeal documentation to him.

Naturally, with some of those who were kicked out of Christopher City no longer in Tucson, many who are frightened of bucking the big bully university, and still others who will be difficult to track down, it will come as no surprise when very few people submit appeals to Likins.

What The Skinny would like to know is: Why didn't the University of Arizona obey state law in the first place and tell the students about the appeals process? Our guess is they just wanted to screw the Christopher City students out of a few bucks. Hey, that's a big contract new football coach John Mackovic got!

We're also wondering why the university is now covering its butt legally with this half-hearted gesture. Could it be they're afraid of a lawsuit, which would reveal the heavy-handed tactics they used in accomplishing their goal of killing off Christopher City for the fewest dollars possible?

DOWN, AND PROBABLY OUT: Not only did the University of Arizona completely mess up its handling of the Christopher City evictions; it also totally fouled up its attempt to rezone the property in order to make a killing when it sold off the land. At the public hearing on the proposed residential and commercial rezoning held before City Zoning Examiner Peter Gavin a few weeks ago, only a few neighbors, including one high-ranking university employee who didn't identify herself as such, spoke in favor of the proposal. Opposed were well over 100 of the nearby residents.

Given those circumstances, along with the university's failure to submit a preliminary development plan for the project, Gavin concluded the rezoning request "is inappropriate at this time," and recommended the City Council deny the application. While final action will be taken by the council in the next few months, don't be surprised if the university withdraws its request for now while it attempts to regroup.

AT LEAST HIS VOTE COUNTED: After tens of millions of votes were cast, in the end it was Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist who both elected and swore in George W. as our new president.

Nobody should be surprised that Rehnquist backed Bush. In the 1960s, Rehnquist was a Republican Party official in Phoenix who worked to keep down voter turnout in heavily Democratic--i.e., minority--precincts. He did a good job of it, too, through intimidation and challenges to people's right to vote.

While G.W. may be in the White House, Rehnquist is coming here to Tucson. On Friday, February 2, Rehnquist will be at the University of Arizona Law College, Speedway Boulevard at Mountain Avenue. To mark the occasion, Democrats and members of the National Lawyers Guild are organizing a 5 p.m. rally to protest the Florida decision.

Come on out and join 'em! At least this time, your voice will be heard.

AND THE WALLS CAME TUMBLING DOWN: At a meeting last week at the westside Community Services building, City of Tucson officials reviewed plans to demolish downtown's historic Drachman School. Preliminary work has already begun on the $196,000 job, with actual demolition slated to begin Monday.

"The goal of the new project is healing the neighborhood," said Richard Fe Tom, architect for the new 63-unit senior citizen housing complex scheduled to be built on the site. "I would like to see the project resolve the issue of neighbor fighting neighbor over the Drachman School property.

Resolution may not be easy. After some of the 30 people in attendance saw Tom's conceptual drawings for the new project, they decided to oppose the demolition of the old building. They are joined by members of the Barrio Viejo Neighborhood Association, which has long been against the demolition.

While time is short, residents of the neighborhood are passing petitions and plotting other strategies to save the building, which is part of a district listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They are asking that the City Council call a hearing about the new project before the old building is demolished, since nobody's bothered to do that yet. They're also wondering where Council members, particularly Steve Leal, José Ibarra and Fred Ronstadt, stand on the new project, which they see as another urban renewal project that bulldozes our history.