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DAY OF THE JACKASS: Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio foiled an assassination plot against Gov. Jane Dee Hull last week--and saved his own life in the bargain, if you can believe the headlines and the talking heads.

The entire cast of characters in this one--including Hull and especially Arpaio--seem to have wandered out of a Coen Brothers film.

There's the Navy vet cooling his heels in Maricopa County jail because he failed to register as a sex offender. He's got a history of screwball scams, including a shakedown in which he threatened to kill then-Attorney General Grant Woods unless he got a half-million bucks, 20 Baby Ruth candy bars, five bags of plain M&Ms and a book of crossword puzzles.

There's the alleged triggerman with a rap sheet dating back two decades, who tried to run down the Phoenix cops who brought him in. And there's the go-between, a Mormon jail chaplain with his own run-ins with the law.

And what a dastardly scheme: kidnap Hull, force her to sign a pardon for the Navy vet, then kill her and bury her beneath a tree. Precisely how they'd then use the pardon is the sketchy part--perhaps they just thought they'd show it to the guards at the jail, kinda like a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Or perhaps they were just a bunch of clowns who couldn't plan a picnic, much less an assassination. We suspect Arpaio, a relentless media hound, wanted some headlines to distract from the story that broke later in the week about his use of deputies to spy on a political opponent.

But then, two weeks ago, we'd have a hard time swallowing the story that a college grunge anarchist would try to set off a series of pipe bombs in mailboxes across the U.S. to create a smiley-face pattern--.


DESPERADO: Mayor Bob Walkup and his pro-tax crew were deep in a last-minute push to salvage the sinking transportation plan all last week. So much that the Republican mayor signed a letter to southeast side residents pledging he would expedite Houghton Road and Cienega High School road improvements if they would only support his scheme. These are the very projects he and his henchman, midtown Republican Councilman Fred Ronstadt, stripped out in a petulant fit after southeast Councilwoman Shirley Scott, a Democrat formerly aligned with Walkup and Ronstadt, wisely suggested a menu vote, listing items like the grade-separated interchanges individually. Scott did not cave in to pressure from Walkup and his patrons to co-sign the promise letter that, according to the reaction from recipients, was as empty as a Walkup suit.

The mayor cheerfully signed another ghosted holier-than-thou op-ed in the Arizona Daily Star emphasizing the city is not like the county, with all those, gee whiz, corrupt rollover contracts. Really? Look at the Star's own findings and you'll see engineering giant Malcolm Pirnie landing an $8.3 million contract for the Avra Valley water operations. It has jumped more than 100 percent to $17.6 million. There are many more at the city listed in the Star. Even small ones, like the $35,000 contract for design work on Speedway and Craycroft awarded in 1999 to MMLA, the firm headed by Let's Go Tucson shill Tom McGovern. It has hemorrhaged from $35,030 to $327,300.

Walkup's piece was followed by an op-ed from Supervisor Ann Day, who suggested that the ill-defined problems in Pima County procurement (a system set by state law for all counties) can best be addressed by--dig this--"a business plan." Day shares with Walkup the ignorant theory that a government can be run like a "business." It can't, because delivering social services doesn't turn a profit. If it did, the private sector would be doing it.


RING AROUND THE WHITE-COLLAR: Even while they were scrambling to convince voters to support their the sales tax, Bob Walkup and Fred Ronstadt were reneging on another promise: a 7.3-percent pay raise for white-collar workers at City Hall, City Court and the 911 center.

An arbitration panel issued a non-binding ruling in favor of the retroactive raise. Ronstadt, the dissenting member of the panel, is holding it up claiming, as does City Manager James Keene, that the city is broke. The item had four votes of support when it was pulled in deference to the absent Ronstadt last week. Now Keene is seeking further delay. Someone needs to remind Kommander Keene how to count. If the raises have four votes, he doesn't.


CUTTING EDGE: Even while the city squeezes the budget, Councilwoman Carol West is out bragging about a proposed cut in the city's property tax rate. We cruised the city's web site to see that the budget elves have indeed concocted a plan to trim the city's property tax rate from $1.12 per $100 just under $1.07.

In real numbers, for a $150,000 home, the tax bill will drop $7.50, from $168 to $160.50.

The decrease is not the product of any particular brains at City Hall but rather the repayment schedule for voter-approved bonds. It is the secondary rate that is declining. The primary rate, to fund daily operations such as electioneering and propaganda, will stay at an admittedly low 14 cents per $100. Yet the amount the city will take in from the primary tax will increase by $163,100 to about $3.1 million. The city derives most of its revenue from the sales tax, now at a penny for every two dollars.

Back to the savings of $7.50 next year. That's 62.5 cents a month. Provided, of course, that the value of your house hasn't jumped 10 percent, as the average home did this year.

Knock yourselves out.


PARTY POOPER: Senate President Randall Gnant told the Arizona Capitol Times last week that he fears Republicans may lose the Legislature to the Democrats in a few years. Under his scenario, the GOP will win big in November, but future budgets will be such disasters that voters will clobber GOP candidates at the polls in 2004.

Well, maybe, although we wouldn't bet on it. But Gnant's concern is baffling. He was the one who made book with the Democratic caucus to win support for his leadership role, giving the Democrats more power than they'd had in a decade. What's he worried about now?


PAZ ES PEZ: Props to the wily Sahuaro High students whose unsanctioned newspaper that TUSD Superintendent Stan Paz tried to censor for making a new Pez dispenser featuring Paz.

All you really need to know about the rotten Tucson Unified School District and Paz's two-year inability to manage was revealed at the TUSD board meeting last week.

And all that's wrong was exposed in single vote that provided a $12,000 copier to the chic doper haven that is Sabino High while Wakefield Middle School, a year-round school with a predominantly Mexican-American enrollment, goes without.

Teachers and faculty at Wakefield on the South Side, far away from the trendy foothills surrounding Sabino, must venture out to make their own copies. Question to Stan and his lard-butted bureaucrats: ever try finding a copy joint in and around South Tucson? (Dan Eckstrom, are you listening?)

But Stan, billed as the homeboy who would do good when he was lured back from desolate El Paso, doesn't give a damn. The Raven is nowhere near Wakefield.

This little item was made all the more interesting given the big, if tardy and slightly off-the-mark investigation into Pima County purchasing "irregularities" by the Arizona Daily Star. At TUSD, the public learned that the procurement director "walked" Sabino brass through the acquisition of the high-tech Konica copier lease purchase. Then came some whining from staff about how Wakefield didn't have the money.

Paz could have stepped up and told his board that he would find a solution for Wakefield. He sat like a dunce, which is what his chief manipulators, board President Mary Belle McCorkle and Clerk Joel Tracy Ireland want. Paz can't manage because McCorkle and the Rev. Ireland micro-mismanage.

McCorkle trampled all over the state Open Meeting Law and Robert's Rules of Order in a stunning display of her own incompetence last week.

Make a new plan, Stan. Start with a press conference outside district headquarters and show the public the handcuffs McCorkle and Ireland have you in. Shed the costly but worthless PR department. Can those ineffective and conflicted lawyers and top bureaucrats and do what you vowed to do as the most expensive public administrator in all of Pima County.


HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE: Part three of the Ruben Reyes/Raúl Grijalva/Pima County saga takes us back 10 months to the dawn of the county's new $1 billion fiscal year. Reyes, longtime grip for Grijalva, winged his way west to L.A. and Hollywood for a film festival and gathering at the Willie Velasquez Institute. Taxpayers footed the $659 bill, according to the voucher from the county's Finance Department. That included $270 for lodging, $179 for the flight, $75 for conference registration and $135 for daily meals.

Grijalva, the former Democratic chairman of the Board of Supervisors who is now running for Congress, signed off on the expense July 25.

Not much sunk in apparently. Reyes failed to get anything underway on a film project while in a special $22.63-an-hour job at the county after his boss bolted from office. He is now telling the dailies that he is reimbursing the county for his approximately two-month salary that included at least two weeks pay for which Reyes was on sick leave while still doing Grijalva campaign duty.

Republican Supervisor Ray Carroll has since asked for a Federal Elections Commission probe of the entire matter.

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