The Skinny

MEET THE NEW BOSS, SAME AS THE OLD BOSS: At the Tucson Unified School District, they are very democratic about rotating leadership and thus sharing control of the Governing Board's agenda. Here's how they do it: Iron Lady Mary Belle McCorkle takes the presidency and power-hungry Joel Ireland is clerk. They devise the agenda with help from Superintendent Stan Paz, who takes direction from legal counsel Jane Butler. When McCorkle feels like it, she relinquishes the presidency to Ireland or even to an ally who can be trusted to do what McCorkle wants. Then she becomes clerk. And you thought the former Amphi board majority, ripped from office in a recall in 2000, was bad?

McCorkle and Ireland have cooked this year's deal, in private. Ireland, a sort of Baby Doc, ascends while he and McCorkle "allow" Judy Burns to be clerk. Make no mistake: They will bounce Burns the second she causes trouble like demanding public discussion of something Ireland and McCorkle want to keep hushed. Burns is fully capable of leading the board and not just because she's been to every TUSD meeting in the last century. She also has scored high marks for chairing the Broadway North landfill remediation meetings.

TUSD needs new blood in the leadership chairs. Ireland, serving a logic-defying fourth term, will be board president for the fifth time. He also has been clerk for the past two years and in 1993, when he embarked on his foolish, obsessive, costly but failed drive to close Catalina High School.

McCorkle, now in her third term on the TUSD board, has been TUSD's president three times and clerk twice.

We can only hope that newcomers Bruce Burke and Adelita Grijalva have the courage to not be led around by Ireland and McCorkle. They could demonstrate that by joining Burns to dump Butler, whose legal work has created more trouble than help. Burke is doubtful. He is the product of the same political packaging, designed by political-consultant-turned-gubernatorial aide Jan Lesher, that has given TUSD Ireland and McCorkle.

ON THE HORNE: New state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne has named former state Sen. Ruth Solomon of Tucson to a senior policy post within his administration, leading the Tucson Citizen to wonder why the "hard-nosed conservative" would pick a liberal Democrat for his office.

There's a simple answer missed by our favorite afternoon daily: Horne isn't a "hard-nosed conservative." He's your basic political opportunist who got run out of the Legislature by a real hard-nosed conservative, Dean Martin, who beat the Horney One by hammering his pro-choice voting record--which, near as we can tell, is hardly a right-wing agenda.

Seems Horne learned a thing or two from the loss, since he walloped former State Supe Jaime Molera on the bilingual ed issue in the GOP primary. But that wasn't because he cared much about bilingual ed. (Hell, in the Paradise Valley School District, where Horne served on the governing board, they were handing out plenty of waivers to allow kids to stay in bilingual ed, at least until Molera pointed out that glaring discrepancy and the district, coincidentally enough, quickly shut down the program a couple of days before the school year began.) It was because he saw it--correctly--as an issue he could use to demagogue his way into office.

Horne's other policy stands--opposition to vouchers, for instance--are hardly the stuff that excites your average conservative.

Here's the straight dope on Horne: He spent more than $400,000 of his own dough to get himself elected to the schools post because he's angling to run for Congress. He's hoping Sen. John McCain will step down in 2004 and a few Maricopa County congressmen will duke it out to replace Mr. Straight Talk, leaving Horne a chance to buy an open seat. In the meantime, the state supe post is a chance for him to raise his profile.

So in two years, don't be surprised to see him stepping down, if the dominos fall in the right direction.

ARBOR DAY: Seems as though the cunning minds at Clear Channel may have gone a step too far when they persuaded Tucson Fire Chief Dan Newburn to cut down a mature mesquite tree at Fire Station No. 5 that had grown high enough to obscure a billboard ("Timber!," January 2).

"I can assure you that actions taken were the results of a request made to the Tucson Fire Department by a member of the business community," wrote Newburn in a recent e-mail forwarded to city officials. "Based on the information conveyed to me I felt it was a reasonable compromise to remove a tree and replace it with something less obstructive. The decision to proceed was clearly made without sufficient research and consultation related to city policies."

Newburn promises to meet with the city's Internal Landscape Management and Assessment Team on Friday, January 17, to "pursue the appropriate course of action that will ultimately result in replacement of the tree."

Let's hope it's a nice tall one.

HOME IMPROVEMENT? We hear that Home Depot is ready to molt again, leaving behind the hollow shell of the old store on Oracle Road just south of River Road to move just around the corner to Wetmore Road near Stone Avenue. Guess the old location just can't compete with the new Lowe's home-improvement megamart that recently opened down the street.

We're sure the new Home Depot will further tangle the traffic that's already cruising along to shop at good ol' Wally-Mart, Best Buy and the Tucson Mall. At least now we'll get to see the city's Big-Box ordinance at work, unless the City Council takes a dive at enforcement.

COUNTY INSECURITY: Hats off to Pima County's security czar Beryl "Dick" Kohlman. The county now has nifty window stickers that are scanned to allow vehicle entrance to the two-floor garage underneath County Administration. Kohlman also has stationed a rent-a-cop at the Church Avenue-Pennington Street pedestrian entrance to screen county workers at closing time. Too bad neither Kohlman nor his staff could stop the thieves who stole--during working hours--a judge's vehicle recently. It was parked in the supposed high security area under Superior Court.

RECYCLING: Gabrielle C. Rico has been paroled from her PR post at Juvi Court to return to the Tucson Citizen, from which she fled for refuge in Juvi in 1995. Rico, who's giving up a $46,053 salary, did not do a bad job as far as government PR is concerned. She lost out in a power struggle with former radioman Dave Ricker and court administration. She'll resume a journalism career that, at the lowly Citizen, was meteoric. She rose at a record pace from a clerk in the downtown bureau to write about courts, higher ed and real estate.

KXCI PABLUM: Listening to Chris Johnson's first Celtic program was like drinking a watered-down, poorly poured, six-ounce Guinness. Which is what was expected of a management-picked scab who eagerly took over an expanded time slot after KXCI General Manager Tony Ford summarily deported John Murphy because Murphy offended someone's Mormon sensibilities.

Ford has terribly misjudged and misread the community in general and the Irish community, specifically. He is too new, too cocky, too naïve to realize the deep connections Murphy and his band have with Ireland, musically, culturally and politically.

KXCI under Ford has blown it with underwriters and contributors on this one.

The real fireworks are set to be ignited at the KXCI board meeting on January 16.