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WHAT A RIOT: Tucson is clearly gathering all the trappings of a big city, including a small clot of scumbags who like to riot when our team goes to the big championship.

Four years ago, when the Wildcats won the NCAA basketball championship, there were eruptions along Fourth Avenue, which resulted in several thousand dollars in damages and the destruction of an unmarked TPD car. As the Wildcats once again moved up into the Final Four, it occurred to those in charge of our local cops that this could happen again.

So they targeted Fourth Avenue with a massive pre-emptive response involving hundreds of cops at a cost approaching a quarter of a million bucks. They even started on Saturday, by setting up vehicle checkpoints to exclude non-residents, and then expanding the "protected" area to include more than a square mile, running roughly from Campbell to Stone and Speedway to Broadway.

Skinny sources tell us the plan was slapped together hurriedly and left out several important features, including the provision of handicapped parking for those who might have business in the area. Cops running checkpoints had few clear instructions and, when asked, gave conflicting statements. Not their fault; their bosses' fault.

The net result of assigning a massive police presence at a massive cost? TPD was totally successful in blockading the lady wanting to visit the thrift shop and the grocery shoppers at Food Conspiracy. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of their ability to stop fewer than 100 jerk-offs (according to TPD figures) from vandalizing stores and torching several vehicles, including an RV used by a local hot-dog salesman, later that evening.

At one point witnesses tell us the cops were doing an adequate job of grabbing the few assholes who deserved it and pulling them into side streets. But slightly after 9 p.m., someone ordered them all back to the end of the street--and that's when the really bad crap happened.

By the time the cops returned in a massive phalanx, the crowd was dwindling. Finally, after 10 p.m., according to witnesses, the cops began their march. With no clear orders from the cops to disperse, flash bangs and rubber bullets were fired at the remaining folks, most of whom were simply standing around. Hopefully, none of them were residents just coming home from work or checking things out. But, hey, that's called "collateral damage."

The real problem seems to stem from the police concept that works on "worst-case scenario"--the assumption that all situations like this resemble those on the West Bank and are to be treated accordingly. We don't grasp why 500 cops can't handle under 100 punks without resorting to the Ninja approach. A few real cops stationed near each of the bars should have been sufficient. If not, then try closing the bars the night of the game instead of closing everything else during the day when nothing is going on.

Unfortunately, the response level doesn't appear to differentiate beyond "handful of punks" and "battalion of Palestinian terrorists." One size fits all.

At some point we need to ask: Should this kind of costly policy decision be made by the elected Mayor and Council or will they continue to be potted plants who simply sign off on whatever the cop bureaucracy or others tell them?


LAND GRAB: Back in January, we heard a lot about how the new, equally divided state Senate would be a real boon to Southern Arizona, with Democratic lawmakers like Ruth Solomon and Elaine Richardson in powerful positions. Richardson vowed to reach across the aisle to work with Republican Sen. Toni Hellon to forge a mighty Southern Arizona caucus to help Pima County increase its legislative clout.

So what happened this week on the biggest land-use issue facing Pima County? We got hosed, plain and simple. The Senate overwhelmingly passed on a voice vote an amendment on a bill that forbids counties from developing conservation plans with the federal government unless a host of state officials, including the governor and the head of the state land department, sign on. If that becomes law, it'll essentially kneecap the county's ongoing Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.

If ever a moment called for hardball politics and vote-trading, this was it. But our powerful Southern Arizona lawmakers were totally sandbagged by this one, with some telling the media that they didn't even know what they were voting on. Truly a pathetic spectacle.


DIAMOND GIRL: Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson complained in the morning daily that the state's land-use preemption legislation was "a bill crafted for special interests, by special interests. And in this case, those special interests are land speculators and developers."

Those same special interests were certainly generous to Bronson in her re-election campaign last year. A Democrat, Bronson received more cash from legendary land speculator Donald R. Diamond than any other sitting supervisor. Bronson used the Diamond money to squeak by Republican Barney Brenner last November. Keep an eye on this largesse while the county goes through its machinations to cover the area with the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan--the one that Diamond has derided as "dip shit."

Diamond and his wife gave Bronson $2,320. (Contribution limits of $320 were lifted because Brenner dumped in a sufficient bag of his own money.) But Tucson's Donald didn't stop there. He also directed another $3,600 Bronson's way just from other family and immediate staff. Included in that bulging envelope was: $1,100 from accountant David Goldstein; $800 from Kenny Abrahams, Diamond's pitchman for Pima Canyon and other projects; $320 from Chris Monson, Diamond's honcho for the Rocking K Ranch; $320 from Yoram Levy, who is married to Diamond's daughter Helaine, who also kicked in $100 to Bronson; $320 from daughter Jennifer; $320 from lawyer Robert Fortuno; and $320 from Dinah Mellar, an executive assistant at Diamond Ventures who, we're sure, is interested only in good government.


NOT EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND: Pima County Supervisor "Sugar" Ray Carroll is a nice guy who seems to work well with a lot of people--but not with Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. It wasn't always this way. Huckelberry liked Carroll well enough 46 months ago when Democratic Supervisor Raúl Grijalva delivered Carroll, a Democrat turned Republican, to fill the seat opened by the untimely death of John Even. Carroll delivered big time for Huckelberry's transportation bond program in November 1997, going all over his eastside and Green Valley District 4 touting the plan. Democrat Sharon Bronson, please recall, was out trashing Huckelberry's plan and crying for a pay-as-you-go method.

But Sugar Ray angered Huckelberry and his colleagues in the following year by not going along on a half-cent sales tax. A unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors is required for this general sales tax, which could raise close to $50 million a year.

Last week, Carroll got a sharp rebuke from Huckelberry over the supervisor's ongoing criticism of a $3.8 million contract awarded last month to the politically connected engineering firm Tetra Tech to count, survey and record data on the county's 59,000 manholes. "For the record," Huckelberry wrote Carroll, "your remarks on the Emil Franzi Show (March 12) are not only grossly inaccurate, they are reckless and offensive. In particular, the allegations that I was taking care of 'one of my friends' implies impropriety in the procurement process."

Huckelberry also was offended that Carroll, the only supervisor to vote against Tetra Tech's manhole contract, said on Franzi's show: "Why should we pay a friend of Chuck, another investigatee of this county, to uh, to uh, $3.9 million?"

Franzi, by the way, has been a Carroll adviser and is a friend of Huckelberry.

The FBI and another law agency are investigating claims made by Brooks Keenan, the county's director of transportation and flood control, that Huckelberry, Grijalva and Supervisor Dan Eckstrom flouted county procurement rules to steer lucrative contracts to Tetra Tech's local predecessor, Collins-Pina, because of the close political ties its executive Raul Pina has with Grijalva and other board members. Keenan resigned from his $104,000-a-year job this week. The irony is that when Huckelberry was slow to appoint a transportation director several years ago, it was Grijalva who pressed Huckelberry to hire Keenan.

Carroll, who has enjoyed enough popularity to win election easily in 1998 and be unchallenged last year, responded by telling Huckelberry that he will exercise his First Amendment rights to speak freely and encouraged Huckelberry to do likewise. He also attached a New Yorker article that explained how New York City awarded a $3 million contract to map by air all fixtures, including manholes.

Carroll also repeated his criticism of county road project costs, particularly the escalation from $9 million to $35 million of another Collins-Pina-related job on South 12th Avenue. That is in Grijalva's district, and one of the reasons Grijalva is stoking this fire between Carroll and Huckelberry. When he was reminded a while back about how he gave birth to Carroll, at least politically, Grijalva snapped: "Yeah, from cradle to grave."

None of this really counts as a new development in county politics. There's a long history of run-ins between supes and the big county bureaucrats.

Bronson's predecessor, Big Ed Moore, was fond of calling Jim Riley, the county manager from 1986 through the spring of 1989, at home, at all hours and generally after a few beers to tell him: "Put your name on the agenda." That was his threat to fire Riley.

Democrat Eckstrom blew up at Jane Verner, Riley's immediate successor, in the lobby of the board offices because his picture was not prominent enough in county newspaper, The Scoop.

Eckstrom stopped talking to Verner's successor, Enrique Serna, although they were longtime allies. And Moore called Serna a liar because he didn't fire the people Moore wanted out. Moore also frequently called Serna's top crew "crooks."

Eckstrom and Grijalva refused to speak to Manoj Vyas, the functionary Moore installed after firing Serna in 1993. Eckstrom also admonished Vyas, a onetime business associate, to not speak to his wife or family.

And now Eckstrom has chewed on Huckelberry and has told him that he doesn't want any help from the administrator or his staff.

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