The Skinny

HARD TO SWALLOW: The big Republican win in last week's Tucson City Council election has left Mayor Bob Walkup in an expansionist mood. Walkup told the media after the election he wants to rev up the city's annexation machine and expand the city's boundaries from mountain to mountain.

It's hardly a new idea, but the city has always met stiff resistance as it has tried to persuade residents on the northern edge to join the city. Still, with his current high popularity, Smilin' Bob may have a better chance than some of his predecessors. And since many of those folks living in the Catalina Foothills and Casas Adobes area are Republicans, he'll be doing himself and the GOP a big favor in future city elections if he can reel 'em in.

But will it be all that good for the city? Sure, Tucson will get more state-shared revenues and sales-tax dollars. But serving more than 120,000 new residents will prove an expensive proposition at a time when the city can't even provide adequate police service, fire protection, trash collection and road maintenance within the current city limits. The additional funds probably won't be enough to cover the costs of expanding services through the Catalina Foothills.

So what will Bob do? Will he promise wealthy new residents top-of-the-line services that will be subsidized by existing residents with existing needs? Or will he convince the Foothills folks that entering the city will be good for the community? Stay tuned for the public-relations blitz.

COMIC GENIUS: Fitz's cartoon in the Sunday Star showed the entrance to the Tucson City Council amended with "-- and Chamber of Commerce." We think Fitz hit it right on--and expect even the two GOP winners of the contested council seats wouldn't argue the point. But this is a good time to remind everyone that the Star endorsed both of those candidates and is itself a member of the Chamber of Commerce.

We can understand dumping Democrat Paula Aboud, one of the most pathetic candidates to run a city contest in some years. But we'd like to point out that publisher Jane Amari, a member of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council (a sort of Super-Chamber of Commerce for the real big guys), sat in on candidate interviews and made sure they also endorsed Fred Ronstadt over Gayle Hartmann, who did not suffer from Aboud's poor performance. Considering that Ronstadt has been on the wrong side of all those Star editorials about the livable wage, the no-smoking ordinance, big-box issues and gun shows, one can only imagine what kind of pressure Growth Lobby guys like Jim Click and Stan Abrams laid on 'em.

Or maybe it was just all those years of the rightees calling them the Red Star that finally got to 'em.

WHY THE WAIT? It took four extra days for City Clerk Kathy Detrick to process several hundred questionable ballots and roughly 2,000 early ballots delivered to polling places on election day, keeping a full count from being reported until several days after the polls closed.

No big deal this time, as all but the politically retarded could figure out that the huge GOP margin in the early ballots was not going to be offset by more early ballots. But a delay like this could result in the kind of election confusion we saw four years ago when the Ward 6 race between Fred Ronstadt and Allison Hughes went to recount. The response of Detrick? "Get used to it," based on an increase in at-home voting.

There's no damn excuse for it. Other jurisdictions have figured out how to count ballots swiftly. If some obsolete provisions in the city code or even state law need changing, then it is part of Detrick's duty as an office-holder to recommend 'em. Unfortunately, both she and her lawyer guru husband, Brad Detrick in the City Attorney's office, have a bad habit of issuing surly pronouncements and bizarre legal opinions that would have been laughed away by a real judge, if those affected hadn't been too craven to challenge them.

But with the new council, we're hearing rumblings that Detrick's time as clerk may be coming to an end anyway.

EARLY WARNING: Forget for a moment the generally accepted premise that higher voter turnout is a civic virtue. (The Skinny could argue that higher turnout isn't in itself meaningful and the constant attempt by election bureaucrats to lead horses who aren't thirsty to water in the first place is a big waste of effort and an insult to those voters who do bother to show up.) What has become a secondary issue is the obvious fact that making it easier to vote at home clearly raises the cost of campaigns.

The Republicans won the 2001 Tucson election because they raised enough money to run an intense get-out-the-vote program based on early voting. No secrets; just obvious voter ID with mail and phone follow-up, which ends up costing more per vote than just working the electorate for one election day.

Now you know why the Oro Valley Town Council just voted to convert their town elections to entirely vote-at-home affairs. No polling places, no ballot box, not a single luxury! That seems just artificial enough by itself to appeal to this generally artificial community. But that ain't the real reason. There are two.

The first is obvious: It gives the development community a built-in edge over the neighborhood types by raising election costs. The second is sneakier. By raising the turnout, they also raise the signature requirements for initiatives, recalls and referendums--something that clearly accrues to the Growth Lobby, which has owned the Oro Valley council for years and can put what it wants on the ballot by just sending a memo from Vistoso Partners to the town manager, who then places it on the agenda and lines up the potted plants on the council.

Like all other reforms, early voting has unintended consequences. And by the way, it has never really lived up to its original intention--increasing turnout. In fact, turnout has generally decreased since its inception, particularly if you factor in population growth.

SIZE MATTERS: At least to Arizona Daily Star publisher Jane Amari, who had reader advocate Debbie Kornmiller explain Sunday the morning daily's circulation figures five weeks after the annual snapshot was provided in the Star's Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation.

Kornmiller isn't dumb, although she can be mouthy. But she soft-stroked Amari's failure to get penetration. Daily circulation is still below 100,000, at 96,671, an increase of just 3 percent in a year. More troubling for Amari is the Sunday Star, which actually dropped slightly to 164,746. The numbers are not much different from 10 years ago, even though Tucson's population for the same period jumped 20 percent to 487,000. Pima County population climbed more than 26 percent to 844,000, primarily in the metro area.

In other words, people aren't reading the paper anymore in this community.

Still, the Star can take some small comfort in the fact that its figures are better than those at the nearly daily Tucson Citizen, which is actually losing readers. Circulation dropped about 3 percent at the afternoon paper last year. Seems like a lot of work to put out something that nobody is going to bother to read.

CAROLYN ON MY MIND: Before being tabbed by Pulitzer two years ago to play the big shot at the Star, Jane Amari once lectured her Gannett colleagues on the topic of content and accuracy.

"Arguably more destructive day in and day out are the small errors of fact that erode public confidence in our ability to get it right," Amari wrote in a Gannett rag that featured a scary picture of her with her orange page-boy in the summer of 1999. "These are the misspelled names, the incorrect addresses, the wrong phone numbers. They aren't big errors, but they can produce big fallout. If we can't get the name right, why should readers assume the other facts are correct?"

Right, Jane. So how many times is the Arizona Daily Correction going to misspell the first name of Carolyn Kemmeries, the president of the Tucson Unified School District board? It's been spelled "Caroline" over and over, made all the more embarrassing because of Kemmeries' high-profile role as leader of University of Arizona alumni.

The Star, by the way, awoke some people with stories of the execrable condition of TUSD athletic facilities, including the decrepit Tucson High gym. But in keeping with its longstanding practice, it let two political culprits off the hook. If there are chronic maintenance problems, don't you think the two longtime members of the TUSD board--Joel Ireland and Mary Belle McCorkle--are responsible? Let's see, the egomaniacal Ireland first took his TUSD seat in January 1989. McCorkle, the wolf in sheep's clothing, joined him four years later. Sorry, but this one isn't Kemmeries' fault. Why are Ireland and McCorkle, now blinded by her quest to have a school named for her, not held to account?

Rather than budget for maintenance, TUSD, under Ireland and McCorkle, happily pissed away millions and then tried to hijack Pima County for money in a slimy real estate deal a year and a half ago. Remember when the county, the city and Army Corps of Engineers planned Arroyo Chico flood protection? TUSD suddenly became neighborhood friendly and opposed the project, saying it would ruin its precious Cherry Fields, which are also seriously in need of repair. That opposition would have melted away, however, if the county would have just given TUSD $10 million for property that is worth a fraction of that and paid for improvements to athletic facilities at Tucson High.

Back to Kemmeries: We've taken some swipes at her, mostly for allowing herself to be bullied by McCorkle and for playing stupid on TUSD's sky-high property taxes. But we'll say this: She has done a fine job in the obviously difficult role of board president. She is polite, fair and runs a good meeting, better every time. Now is not the time to cave into Ireland and give him the gavel.

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