The Skinny

JAY BIRD SINGS: And the chorus all over town is: "Jay Gonzales is a nice guy, BUT--" Is the former darling of the Arizona Daily Star and Tucson Electric Power spin factory--not to mention a onetime Man of the Year--worth $80,000 a year to be the city's new top PR man?


Not when the city, under City Manager James Keene, is ready to cut into core services, including police and fire, in its search for 100 jobs and programs to ax to shrink a $35 million deficit.

This is just a new path in the charmed life of Jay Gonzales, who is indeed a nice guy. A local boy and product of the University of Arizona J-Mart, Gonzales was signed up with the Daily Star as a cop reporter while a brother was serving as a Tucson cop. Then it was off to cover Superior Court, where his bigger-shot brother, Richard, was actively lawyering and swaggering. Jay moved to Star sports, covering UA football (this is where he honed his skills as Only Positive) and basketball. After that, he wrote shallow stories for the Star business section.

And before he completed his tryout on the Star city desk a dozen years ago, Jay bolted for TEP.

He's a nice guy. He runs a great football pool. He's part of Tucson's Hispanic elite. His wife, Gabrielle Fimbres, is one of the longest-serving reporters at the feeble Tucson Citizen. She, too, is nice.

Indeed, members of La Crema were looking to stick Jay into a high-ticket job for several weeks after he was pushed out of a TEP subsidiary. Budgets were just too tight to sneak in an appointment at the UA, so Kommander Keene was called for help. He was stupid enough to create this totally ill-timed and unnecessary job for Jay even though, as Jay's old friend at the Star, Joe Burchell, pointed out, the city already wastes up to $3.5 million a year in PR and "information jobs."

This is the latest result of Keene's petulance. He reasons that Gonzales is needed because the City Council and public complain that the public isn't getting enough information. Kinda like when Keene, while the City Council slept, improperly spent a million bucks to pimp his Dead-On-Arrival transportation tax last spring.

It will be amusing to watch Jay try to hide what Kommander Keene does not want Burchell to find.

PEACHY KEENE? As the budget tightens, so may the noose around City Manager James Keene's neck. It's no secret that three members of the council--Democrats Steve Leal, José Ibarra and Shirley Scott--want to dump Keene, while he enjoys support from Democrat Carol West and Republicans Bob Walkup and Fred Ronstadt. That leaves Republican Kathleen Dunbar with the swing vote--and the recent media circus over Jay Gonzales has her plenty upset. Enough to flip her away from GOP allies into the hands of the Democrats? Wait and see.

BONDS AWAY: Can someone explain why the Republican caucus in the Arizona Legislature is so damned resistant to the idea of selling bonds to build schools? It's hardly a revolutionary idea, since school districts built 'em with borrowed money before the state took over the responsibility under Students First. Interest rates are low, so it's a perfect time to sell the bonds. And the state is in a bit of financial pickle, wouldn't you say?

But Republican lawmakers say that kind of borrowing is irresponsible--even though they support a wackadoodle lease-to-own scheme that state officials are still trying to figure out, and which will likely cost more than bonding would.

Well, it's good that the bedrock principles remain in place, even if it means slashing programs that provide day care for working mothers or help for battered women or deep cuts to our universities. We've got priorities, after all.

THE TUSD PRINCIPLE: Mediocre or worse? You move to the head of the class. The tyrannical majority of the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board voted last week to install Liz Whitaker as the Chief Operating Officer of TUSD. It's another $80,000-a-year position that is not needed. The ruling majority, Mary Belle McCorkle, Joel Ireland and their lame-duck yes woman, Carolyn Kemmeries, should have at least agreed to delay the vote until Adelita Grijalva and Bruce Burke join the board in January.

Whitaker is good at taking credit but much better at evading blame. The buck should have stopped at her desk, but miraculously didn't, when TUSD botched its phone system overhaul, screwed up its computer network under Peoplesoft (costing taxpayers an extra $1 million fix) and hid warehouses of computers that were supposed to be in the classroom.

Whitaker has proven adept at one thing. She can pinpoint any little mistake she thinks someone else makes. This is an appointment that has no support from the real workers at TUSD.

EMERGENCY RELIEF: It's nice to know we're all set for the next anthrax attack. Now let's hope we're ready for the next car accident.

Tucson Medical Center and University Medical Center are just wrapping up another experiment to see how having just one level-one trauma center works out. While that may have gone OK in the short term, the docs we talked to say the community needs two level-one trauma centers.

Even though Arizona voters supported a hike in the tobacco tax and the new Indian gaming compacts are designed to deliver more money for emergency rooms, TMC may still dump level-one trauma care. The hospital has lost millions in recent years providing the care and there's no guarantee when or if the Legislature will come through with more funding.

TMC's board meets next month to make a decision. Let's hope they at least keep the program on life support until we learn if more dollars will be available.

GAMBLING FIRST, CRIME FOLLOWS: We just knew we'd end up like seedy Las Vegas when the tribes started plopping casinos around Pima County. First, a tribal judge, Mary Juan, got busted for storing bales of pot, then the Chief Judge Malcolm Escalante got busted for driving around the downtown bus station while drunk, and now Tribal Chairman Edward Manuel gets popped on a prostitution charge. Where will it all end?

HARDER TIME: The overcrowded and understaffed Department of Corrections revealed its petty stupidity again when it moved Correy Castonguay, a harmless petty offender who is battling cancer, from the Wilmot prison facility in Tucson to Buckeye, well away from his mother and family in Sierra Vista. Castonguay, whose battle with testicular cancer behind bars was recounted in "Hard Time" (August 29), could be released in about six months. He should be sent home, not to another, more remote prison in a system that was terribly and painfully slow to diagnose and treat his disease.

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