LAWYERS IN LOVE: One of the many shameful wastes of money at bloated Tucson Unified School District is the oligopolistic and longstanding group of arrangements with select law firms: DeConcini McDonald Yetwin & Lacey and Gabroy Rollman & Bosse. It's time to break the lock these firms have on the public's money for schools.

The first step, according to the typically buried and hard-to-read legal notice in the dailies, is Thursday, April 12, for a pre-proposal conference TUSD bureaucrats are hosting for law firms. The meeting begins at 10 a.m. and we encourage all Tucson lawyers to be at district headquarters, 1010 E. 10th St., to add some competition, and at least witness how these contracts are wired. And please, lawyers, submit proposals before the deadline of April 24 at 2 p.m. We'll be there for the opening of those.

It really is time to end the gravy train these two firms have slopped in. There's little wonder why the two have benefited from your tax dollars. They both gave lavishly to the campaigns of their favorite TUSD board members, Joel Ireland, Mary Belle McCorkle and Carolyn Kemmeries. DeConcini McDonald even gave Ireland a place to work--he clerked there as a law student. That conflict was particularly quieted when Ireland led the fight for TUSD to overspend for the radon-laced rock that the DeConcini family sold TUSD for a southwest high school eight years ago. So great was Ireland's training that he is now a storefront lawyer at Goldberg & Osborne. And let's not forget the regular parties the two firms host for TUSD brass at Tucson Country Club.

And what do taxpayers get? Crummy legal work. The firms insist on taking matters to court. They lose. And then they insist on appeals, to run up bills, in cases they can't possibly win (e.g., accommodations for the disabled). They take hopeless cases to fuel Ireland's power trips (e.g., seeking a prior restraint against the Arizona Daily Star in 1998 to block the paper from running a story about the multiple sexual harassment complaints against former TUSD darling and administrator Ed "Fast Eddie" Arriaga and the resulting cash settlements). And they take obscene cases to satisfy the petty political schemes of Ireland, McCorkle, former board member Gloria Copeland and former Superintendent George Garcia, i.e., the persecution of onetime Tucson High Principal Cecilia Mendoza.

Why the Tucson Education Association is not screaming about these wasteful legal contracts and the quagmires they get TUSD into is a mystery. The Arriaga mess, excluding the settlements given to Arriaga and new settlements to two women who had filed complaints against him, cost more than $30,000. That's well more than many teachers make. Included in that was a $4,288 bill from Frank Cassidy, a fine enough fellow, for his effort to uncover who leaked the confidential Arriaga documents to the Star in the first place. And let's not forget the nearly $3,000 that went to Gabroy's firm for the now infamous Ronna Fickbohm investigation of the soda machine change and stamps at Tucson High. Three thousand dollars is a lot of money that could go toward supplies the teachers have to buy out of their own pockets.

Equally important is tossing Jane Butler, head of TUSD's internal legal squad. We've bitched non-stop about the work at Amphi of Butler's TUSD predecessor, Todd Jaeger. But Butler is every bit as manipulative and meddling. She has the gall to strike items from the board's agenda because they may be too uncomfortable for her or because she wants to protect a TUSD administrator. You read it here: Jaeger is smarter and better! Wake up, Superintendent Stan Paz.

CITY-COUNTY CONSOLIDATION: You gotta give it to those boys at the city: working full time and yet holding down county jobs as well. At least that's what we've read in our favorite morning paper in Tucson, the Arizona Daily Star. Dan Felix left the county two years ago to take over city Parks and Recreation. Yet the Star's young Adam Borowitz told us recently that Felix is still the director of county Parks & Rec. And just last week, the Star's Rob Bailey, trying his very very best to write about Tucson Electric Power's expansion on the southeast side, wrote that the issue was before Pima County Zoning Examiner Peter Gavin. Well then, Mssrs. Felix and Gavin are due for more money. Gavin, the city's zoning examiner, was surprised to read of his expanded role. It'd be groundbreaking. The county has no zoning examiner.

DOORWAYS TO DYSTOPIA: Builders, land speculators and their cheerleading real estate agents and Chamber of Commerce stooges are asking: "Can't we all just get along?" And reaping the profits is Rillito Consulting, the--ooh, we love this word--"facilitator" for a half-day circle jerk, titled "Doorways to Dialogue," on development. Rillito will charge participants $500 for this May 11 mope-and-grope. Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, the man who has spurred the whining from the Growth Lobby because of his Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, has not penciled in the "dialogue" in his planner, reportedly because of the fee. The fee is just an excuse.

We recall another giant waste-of-time growth dialogue held in 1988 at what was then Hotel Park. That all-day session was the brainchild of City Councilwoman Sharon Hekman and County Supervisor Iris Dewhirst and it featured--at taxpayer expense--Mr. Facilitator, Marshall Kaplan of the University of Denver. What a joke! Although it was fun seeing every pol and wannabe show up. More fun was who they brought. Republican Supervisor Reg Morrison, a kind-hearted if bumbling soul, brought a couple of S&L kings: Bill Heinz and Charlie Keating. He pronounced at that session that Tucson needed to get its act together and that its many land-use conflicts were the subject of both jokes and terror for the money boys in Phoenix. Of course, Charlie later had an extended stay in Tucson, provided by his interesting deals through his Lincoln Savings and Loan. He was a resident of the southeast side--at the federal prison on Wilmot Road.

Kaplan's great facilitatin' was supposed to pave the way for smooth planning debate here. Right. And then came the nasty fights on the county's BOZO--the buffer ordinance that restricts development around national parks and other preserves--and the long-delayed comprehensive land use plan update that was not completed until 1989.

Despite their vision, the women had a tough political future. Dewhirst lost in the Republican primary to Greg Lunn several months later, while Hekman, appointed to the Ward 6 seat when Tom Volgy moved on to the mayor's office, lost to Molly McKasson in the 1989 Democratic primary.

PLAYING KINO: Stakes are high, rewards great if you are Dr. William Nevin of the Nevin Group. County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry looked to his friend Dr. Bill last year to help Kino as medical director. Dr. Bill is an old Kino hand, having served on the Kino Community Hospital Board for a long stretch. His initial $25,000 contract ballooned to $625,000. And just last month, it was jacked up another $250,000--40 percent--to $875,000 and to include new duties.

The scope, as they say, was amended to include "performance improvement, patient rights and organizational ethics that include advanced directives and patient satisfaction."

What a joke, part one: Ethics? When Kino internist Dr. Charlie Blanck got busted for writing bogus prescriptions to hospital employees, he took a plea deal from the Attorney General's Office. In exchange for his guilty plea to two counts of falsely obtaining prescription drugs (percoset and other painkillers), Dr. Charlie was whisked through drug diversion court and got probation. Here's some irony: Blanck is the physician for Supervisor Raúl Grijalva. Paul Eckerstrom, the assistant attorney general who handled the case, is a Grijalva supporter who gave money to Grijalva's campaign last year.

Earlier, the state Board of Medical Examiners suspended Blanck's license for 90 days, revoked his authority to write prescriptions for narcotics and put him on three-year probation.

Blanck is not a bad fellow. He is far from being a rare doctor addicted to meds. But the point is this: The county, which regularly fires nurses and others for far less serious infractions, did nothing to Blanck. In one case, the county trailed one of Kino's top nurses, out because of a work-related injury, and videotaped her going to and from the market. That nurse had to fight to get her job back. But when Blanck was in trouble, the Board of Supervisors quickly approved a new, $1.2 million contract for Blanck and his associates. Under the county's "bad boy" ordinance, he could have been prohibited from having a county contract.

What a joke, part two: The extra $250,000 in Nevin's contract, which was really designed to rescue Kino from potential loss of accreditation this year, is for information management "that includes confidentiality issues," according to the amendment. Sadly, for all its good work, Kino is a sieve. Confidential patient records--medical and otherwise--frequently and improperly are given to members of the Board of Supervisors and other county officials who have no business and no legal right to have it.

THE GRASS IS GREENER: Tucson Unified School District is trying so hard to attract new teachers to the district, it's alienating some of their longtime loyal employees. Under a new district policy, an experienced teacher moving into TUSD from elsewhere will start at a salary several thousand dollars a year higher than that of a teacher already in the district with the same amount of experience. In effect, this tends to devalue teachers whose experience has come in TUSD. Some TUSD teachers have even considered quitting their jobs and trying to get rehired to see if they'd get the pay bump. If the answer is "No," we'd love to hear the district's explanation.

ZERO-SUM GAME: The folks over at the Sunnyside School District have come up with a fascinating new way of speaking. In negotiations with district teachers for next year, the board has offered a "zero percent pay increase." In the old days, this was referred to as a "salary freeze" (as well as an insult). In real terms, it should be referred to as a "loss in real wages when compared to cost-of-living increases."

The board followed that left jab with a right cross in the form of adding five working days to the teachers' calendar for next year, only one of which will be in the classroom. Two of these extra days will be paid for out of money the district receives from Proposition 301 funds, while the others may not be paid for at all.

The board (and the teachers) are showing legitimate concern over test scores in the southside district. In an effort to help the board lead by example, we'd like to help out with this little bit: If you call something an "increase," there has to be a number attached to it. Zero is the absence of value, somewhat like the esteem in which the teachers are held.

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