The Skinny

ALL BLOW AND NO GO: The Board of Supervisors lacks the work ethic (Sugar Ray Carroll and Dan Eckstrom excepted) and brains (Eckstrom, excepted) to fulfill the bluster about reviewing the proposed $29 million budget for Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall or any other part of County Prime Minister Chuck Huckelberry's recommended $942 million budget. Some supes threatened a line-item review, something that has not occurred in more than a decade. Despite slobbering by the dailies, the mere schedule is the first clue that a detailed look won't happen before the budget is adopted for the 2002 fiscal year that begins July 1. One day is scarcely sufficient.

Carroll, a Republican, is alone in wanting to work as long as it takes. And he is the only supervisor who wants a little outside checking from a budget review committee, composed of citizens and experts. True hearings and close review takes the better part of a week. Supervisors, with the two exceptions noted above, have neither the patience nor attention span. Moreover, the supervisors do not have and have not asked for the budget "detail" books, the thick volumes that show everything from exact personnel costs to coffee and other office supplies.

There was a time when supervisors, including the late great Sam Lena and even petulant Democrat David Yetman, would look over line items and actually vote them up or down. As Lena's Democratic successor, Eckstrom showed his skill early in his first term when he stripped out a bloated, $200,000 advertising budget at Kino Community Hospital. Advertising in those days, when the hospital was run by Hospital Corp. of America, mostly was a showcase for its administrator Art Gonzalez.

Detail may not be necessary to whack LaWall, whose whining and media manipulation are so predictable. At least her Democratic mentor, Stephen D. Neely, threw back--stunning supervisors in 1990 when he said he would prosecute crimes in the districts represented by supportive supervisors.

An audit shows LaWall's high trial rate is costing the county between $2.3 million and $2.9 million a year. Assistant Public Defender Leo Plowman, Jr. provided amplification in a brief letter to the Star this week. LaWall, Plowman wrote, insists on a guilty plea to the charges on the indictment or a trial in cases involving first-time offenders charged with residential burglary. As Plowman notes, only an ineffective lawyer would take the plea. But more to the point, the result is the same. Probation is available and first-time offenders are rarely given prison at trial.

LaWall is pulling out her "it's illegal for anyone to tell me how to run my office" performance. And she is threatening to sue. There are some cases, watered down a bit by Maricopa County's ability in recent years to contain Sheriff Joe Arpaio, that held that separately elected officials must be given sufficient money to carry out their constitutionally mandated duties. Still, it's funny how LaWall can't see the conflicts of interest her posturing creates. Her bulging, bungling civil division also represents the people she's fighting--members of the Board of Supervisors, Huckelberry and every other county department. We've gone gray in the time we've preached that supervisors, apparently still intimidated, hire their own counsel.

Finally, let us remind taxpayers that LaWall's civil operations are a wasteful mess. Recent cases, including that for a janitor at Waste Water Management, illustrate the point. The man won a $500,000 award from a federal jury even though he had no real damages when his schedule was altered. One of LaWall's chihuahuas, Leslie Lynch, could not get the job done. It was blown early, probably at jury selection. And one more time, let us remind supervisors to remember the persecution LaWall stupidly took up last year against Amphi School Board member Ken Smith. She assigned Paula Wilk, then making more than $70,000 a year, to try to show that Smith could not be on the Amphi Board, despite winning all but three of Amphi's 51 precincts in 1998, because his wife was in an early retirement program that required she serve 20 hours a year at Amphi schools. Wilk last year refused a Weekly request for an itemized list of her time and that of clerks and paralegals in the Smith case. It clogged Judge Kenneth Lee's Superior Court for at least six hours of hearings and a thick stack of memoranda and motions. Lee quickly ruled in Smith's favor and ordered that Smith get a maximum in $10,000 from the county toward his legal fees, which ran closer to $20,000. That 10 grand, dear taxpayer, came right out of the LaWall accounts that could have been used for investigation or other necessities in a burglary, rape or murder.

Supervisors should fully fund the budget of Superior Court Clerk Patti Noland. The Republican former state lawmaker has done an excellent job with what she has in her first term as clerk. But she, her staff and the public deserve better. She's asked for $290,000 more to build a more efficient filing system and to convert more documents to film.

BOUNCED CHECK: Speaking of expensive legal fights, the City Council has appealed a Superior Court ruling that struck down an attempt to force background checks on private gun sales at the Tucson Convention Center. Judge Stephen Villarreal ruled in favor of Roadrunner Gun and Knife Show promoter Pat McMann, who had sued the city, claiming that the contract provision forcing him to ensure that all gun sales went through a background check violated a state law that forbid municipalities from enacting any gun ordinances, rules or taxes stricter than state regulations. McMann, whose legal fees have been paid by the National Rifle Association, plans to have a gun show the first weekend in June.

The appeal could cost taxpayers a bundle if the city doesn't prevail at the next level. The City Attorney's Office has turned to outside counsel, contracting with Richard Rollman of Gabroy Rollman & Bosse, a firm that already enjoys healthy slices of pork from the city, county and Tucson Unified School District. The price could climb even higher if McMann decides to seek legal fees for his fight.

GIVE HER LAND, LOTS OF LAND AND THE DAILY STARRY SKIES ABOVE: Can't fence in Jane Amari or her horse anymore. The editor and publisher of the Arizona Daily Star (as well as the de facto boss of its weak sister, the Tucson Citizen), has abandoned her cramped one-acre homesite in the Santa Catalina Foothills for a house and 4.5 acres in the Tanque Verde Valley. And she deserves the upgrade. At a Star/Citizen marketing talk recently, Citizen editor Michael Chihak gushed that Amari was the "Bill Gates of newspaper marketing."

Amari is selling the foothills property for $385,000--$20,000 more than what she paid less than two years ago. The new spread is way out east, just down the street from Saguaro National Park East, and cost $489,000 ($114,000 down, according to the public records).

Chihak, meanwhile, is desperate to recapture the circulation lost when the City Council booted the hawkers off the medians. He's looking to link up with burger flipper José Canchola. Tucson will have its first McPaper under this plan, which will put a Citizen in every one of the Extra Value Meals at one of Canchola's McDonald's locations. Be sure to check the nutritional ratings.

Meanwhile, Amari is looking for new meat to serve as the Star's transportation writer--the third in recent months. Tom Collins, lured away from the Citizen's capitol bureau in March, is back in Phoenix as the mouthpiece for Jaime Molera, the new superintendent of public instruction. Collins sent out his first press release Monday, the same day he had yet another puff piece about a city traffic light in the Star. Word from Phoenix is that Collins was a particular favorite of Republican Gov. Jane Dee Hull, for whom Molera previously worked.

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