The Skinny

TRAUMATIC STRESS: The Tucson City Council and the Pima County Board of Supervisors are eagerly attempting to color themselves as the saviors in the money crisis that threatens to close much-needed trauma centers at University Medical Center and Tucson Medical Center. Do these none-too-sharp collections of bottom-shelf pols know something we don't? Is there rampant waste at the trauma centers? Should physician contracts be renegotiated?

The centers need more than $4.5 million to stay open beyond New Year's Eve. Supes are offering up $250,000--next summer. The delay comes despite the huge slush funds that Pima County Prime Minister Chuck Huckelberry built into the nearly $1 billion budget. Supervisors have $5.5 million, as reported in the Weekly last week, to play with. Can't they come up with more than $250,000 next July? Sure they can.

Across the plaza, City Commander James Keene is pledging a match of the county's contribution--also too late. The city will have a more difficult time with its budget next year, which won't be at all pretty for Keene, who struggled mightily to get a budget passed this year. Republican Mayor Bob Walkup and each of his council members also have a lot of money to play with. Remember, they each have $800,000 to dole out in Back to Basics. Perhaps UMC and TMC should have requested some of that Back to Basics dough.

Supes also play with neighborhood money under the county's Community Reinvestment plan. This was a trick, boasting $10 million, that fooled many people into supporting the county bonds four years ago. It is moving at glacial speed and money from the first bond sale for Community Reinvestment--$1 million--was siphoned off for other projects.

BILLBOARD BUST: Billboard Baron Karl Eller won a big one last week when Pima County Superior Court Judge Charles Harrington ruled that state law prevented the city from taking action on about half of roughly 170 cases involving Eller's unsightly erections.

This fight has been going on since voters banned new billboards in city limits back in 1985. Although voters also decided against buying the existing boards, the council's policy has been to stop the company from repairing boards that were no longer in compliance. As they deteriorated, they would be forced to come down. Eventually, the city would one day be free of most of its wretched billboard blight.

But the local billboards are owned by the mighty Karl Eller. His billboard empire, until recently known as Eller Media Company, was recently renamed Clear Channel Outdoor Inc. Now that he's bought the name of the UA's biz school, Eller must be tired of seeing his name in conjunction with such a despised industry. Can't blame him for that.

Eller has battled the city's efforts to bring down billboards that are no longer in compliance. With a lot of courtroom wrangling, he's managed to avoid having to take down many of his boards.

For the last year, Eller and his blowhard VP Don Dybus have been peddling a deal with council members that sounds pretty good on the surface. The company is ready to tear down a bunch of boards in exchange for being allowed to put up a few others.

But what the company really wants to do is tear down the worst of its inventory and lock in permanent rights for the rest. It's a bait-and-switch that will keep us beneath the looming gaze of the Eyewitness News Team in perpetuity.

Eller and Dybus hit a snag when they couldn't bully Mayor Bob Walkup, who--to his credit--has refused to give away the store to Eller. So they went with Plan B.

For the last couple of years, Eller has also worked the legislature to pass a law that would ease the power of local jurisdictions to regulate billboards. One provision created a statute of limitations as to how quickly a city had to cite an out-of-compliance billboard.

Back in the 2000 legislative session, Arizona Outdoor Advertising Association lobbyist Wendy Briggs testified: "This bill is not retroactive. -- Statutes of limitations can not be applied retroactively."

Eller himself addressed the retroactive issue in a letter to Sen. Ken Bennett.

"We do not believe that the legislation can be legally used retroactively to affect existing legislation," Eller wrote. "That is the reason we removed the retroactivity clause that was included in last year's bill. Moreover, Eller Media has no intention to use this legislation retroactively to affect billboard litigation filed by the City of Tucson."

Guess when Karl underlines something in a letter, it means he's lying. Because earlier this year, his attorneys asked Judge Harrington to throw out the city's legal action because the new state law created a retroactive statute of limitations that the city had violated.

Harrington looked at the law, said lobbyist testimony had no bearing on the intent of the legislature and ruled in favor of Eller.

So now, thanks to corrupt bozos at the Arizona Legislature and a compliant judge, the billboard company may have finally won big.

The city absolutely must appeal this ruling. We hope Eller isn't able to push the majority into taking a dive.

If the GOP candidates win the November 6 election, Eller might find it easier to cut a deal. Councilman Fred Ronstadt has long been Eller's most vociferous champion on the council. He says he supports "a deal which would have Eller remove boards from neighborhoods and allow them to maintain current boards in commercial areas."

Ronstadt's Democratic opponent in Ward 6, Democrat Gayle Hartmann, says it's another example of Ronstadt bowing down to special interests. She says she'd oppose such a deal.

In Ward 3, Republican Kathleen Dunbar says she wouldn't support any "new" boards, but she's ready to sell out to Eller's deal, as long as there's "no net gain in boards."

Dunbar, who's plastered her mug on billboards across town, doesn't think voters give a crap about the issue anyway. "Who cares about billboards?" she asks.

Although she downplays his role in her campaign, Eller's pet pit bull Dybus has been hanging around Dunbar at campaign events. Eller and his crew have contributed plenty to the independent campaigns to knock off Democrat Steve Leal and keep the other Democrats out of office.

Dunbar's Democratic opponent, Paula Aboud, says she's opposed to a deal allowing new billboards to be built. "I support a more beautiful city, not one infested with 'visual pollution,'" she says.

ASK FOR YOURS TODAY! The citizens of Tucson sure love that voting-by-mail program--especially if they're Republicans. The City Clerk's Office continues to work through a steady stream of requests for early ballots.

Backed by a well-funded independent campaign run by the state GOP headquarters in Phoenix, the Republicans continue to dominate the process. As of Monday, October 22, 14,000 GOP voters had requested early ballots. That's a big advantage over the 5,824 Democrats who had asked to vote by mail. Another 943 voters who aren't affiliated with either of the Big Two have also asked for early ballots.

To request your early ballot, call the City Clerk's Office at 791-5784.

MAP WRAP: Say what you will about Steve Lynn as a PR man for Tucson Electric Power (we do). Say what you will about his political consulting for George Miller and others (we do). But say this also: He did an outstanding job as chairman of the state's Independent Redistricting Committee. He presided with equanimity rarely seen in any government panel. He also maintained the group's focus over the many months and many meetings in all corners of the state. He was professional and courteous. And that is something, considering he had to listen to the officious and pretentious Mark Osterloh (who has already announced a gubernatorial campaign) on numerous occasions.

The ballot proposition that created the new redistricting commission was primarily funded by current state Democratic Party Chair Jim Pederson, who dropped about $650,000 on the effort to take redistricting power away from the state legislature.

As we mentioned last week, the new political result has been to solidify the current congressional delegation, probably hand the Dems one of the two new seats and leave the other up for grabs--in other words, what would have happened had we left the old system in place. The legislature will remain GOP and the Republicans will probably recapture the state Senate in 2002.

This occurs simply because not all the criteria that Pederson and others outlined have equal merit when it comes to drawing district lines. The legal bottom line is that minority representation trumps the desire for loosely defined "competitive districts." The result is that large blocs of heavily Democratic minority precincts are taken off the table when they're all included in minority districts, something the GOP has gotta love, as they score big with what remains. (As an aside, we would remind those whining about it now that all districts are competitive in the primary election.)

One aspect that did change from the old method is the large number of incumbent legislators ending up in the same districts and being forced to either move or run against each other.

One Zelig who should have no trouble is first-term Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Currently a Democrat from the old foothills and central District 13, Giffords, 31, could re-register to vote at her house in Barrio Viejo in what is now called District CC. Although she bought the gentrify-the-barrio house at 300 W. 17th St. three years ago, Giffords changed her voter registration in May 1999 to mom and dad's Soldier Trail spread on the far northeast side, which has ended up in a GOP district. Three months earlier, she ended her 11-year relationship with the Republican Party to become a Democrat. Maybe she could just switch back!

Giffords' fellow District 13 House member, Republican Carol Somers, is also trying to figure out where to go, since she's been pencilled into a Democratic district. Maybe she and Gabby could just swap houses.

The number of lawmakers who are considering selling their present homes to keep the privilege of sitting in the big leather chairs should be admitted as one more piece of evidence against the constant pressure to raise legislative and other politician salaries. They don't run for the money; they run for the power and the "prestige." Raising the pay just gets you bigger dingbats than you have now.

If you need further evidence that Pederson and other Demos who promoted the new process may have shot themselves in the foot, check out how the heavily Democratic California Legislature has handled re-apportionment under the old-fashioned system. Seems they have spent so much time covering the asses of all their incumbents that they will probably pick up no new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and the state legislature will remain pretty much the same. Which is what would have happened here had the pols been in charge as opposed to the commission, meaning the Demos would have had a better shot at retaking a legislature that will now probably be Republican for the next decade.

On a further redistricting note, don't expect the Dems to take back the House in 2002. Most big states are either in GOP hands like Pennsylvania or split like Illinois, New York and Massachusetts. Besides California, the only places the Dems dominate that are relevant are Georgia and North Carolina. Split states tend to just take care of incumbents and move on.

ROMAN HOLIDAY: That Stan Paz is getting to be a pretty smart vato. The superintendent of the Tucson Unified School District last week got unanimous support from his board to name Roman Soltero assistant principal at Tolson Elementary School. Though his degree and certifications originate far from high-powered schools, Soltero is dedicated and good with kids. He also can deliver lines like The Rock, one of his favorite wrestlers.

Profiled as the "Perfect Pol" by the Weekly (December 23, 1998), Soltero is unwaveringly polite and efficient. A 1988 graduate of Pueblo High School, where he played ball for Barry O'Rourke's Warriors, Soltero served as a monitor at Safford Middle School and was a substitute teacher for kindergarten at Menlo Park. He has served on TUSD committees and has a strong record of going above and beyond for his young students, be they at Harriet Johnson on the far southwest side or Carrillo in the barrio.

Now to Paz's politics. Soltero, who serves on the South Tucson City Council, is the No. 2 son of state lawmaker Victor Soltero, the Democrat who has been a South Tucson councilman, South Tucson mayor, state senator and now state representative. Both are part of the Dan Eckstrom machine. And who did Paz visit late in the summer when he needed support from the Board of Supervisors to approve a special request by TUSD to boost already high taxes to pay off legal and other bills from the year before? Eckstrom. Think Dan may have slipped Stan a little recommendation for Soltero, who had been turned down in a previous bid for an administrative job?

Paz also needs Vic Soltero and the support of another Eckstrom soldier, state Sen. Ramon Valadez, a close friend and golfing buddy of the Solteros. That support will come in handy for Paz when Maricopa County legislators come snooping around TUSD's scandalous desegregation spending.

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