The Skinny

MERGER MANIA: Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup's big call for consolidated metro government played OK with the audience and the editorial staff over at the morning daily, but let's get real.

Is it really a good idea to announce your engagement without mentioning it to the bride first? Walkup didn't even talk to members of the Board of Supervisors before springing his call for metro government during last week's State of the City variety show.

And is it really a good idea to beat up on the county at the same time you're courting them? Call us crazy, but we can think of better ways of wooing our intended.

The Democratic supes don't seem all that flattered by the attention. "He's just reinventing stuff that's been talked about as long as I've been around," said Dan Eckstrom.

Even Supervisor Ann Day, the first-term Republican who supports the metro gov concept, said she didn't expect to see it happen in her lifetime.

BEHIND THE WHEEL: And pardon us for being skeptical about Bob Walkup's call to take the politics out of transportation planning. Here we thought politics was how we ironed out (or further wrinkled, as the case may be) our differences. If getting the politics out of transportation means we don't have a say on whether we destroy midtown neighborhoods like Campbell and Grant with half-baked, over-priced tunnels, we'll keep our politics, thanks very much.

Big Bob's sudden flip in support of transportation impact fees didn't sit too well with the folks from the Southern Arizona Homebuilders Association, but we're delighted to see that he's now supporting them. Still, we find it odd that a mayor who has opposed them since his election is now claiming they're part of his "strong record of achievement over the past few years." Last time we checked, the city still isn't charging a impact fee, although some committee somewhere is allegedly crunching the numbers.

PAG WIRE: City Hall looked down its nose when Pima County's road projects became mired in contract handouts for political cronies, particularly the architectural and engineering jobs that went predominantly to insiders who then jacked up the costs.

Many of those contracts were no-bid fixes.

Now comes Bob Walkup, the Republican who wants a second stint as mayor, and his stooges on the regional council of the Pima Association of Governments. Walkup and his allies voted Jan. 22 to line up a sole-source contract with the University of Arizona for roughly $160,000 for some kind of vague nonsense of a regional transportation authority, an idea broached more than a dozen years ago by then-Republican Supervisor Greg Lunn.

The item should have been stricken. The vote is a clear violation of the Open Meeting Law because the PAG agenda listed only "Transportation Authorities." It didn't list contracts, contract negotiations, the UA or anything that Walkup's group did. It was very similar to the effort in 1995 by Republican Supervisors Ed Moore, Paul Marsh and Mike Boyd to promise the moon and Stars to the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox when all the vague agenda listed was "Baseball."

Only Supervisor Dan Eckstrom, the county's Democratic rep to the PAG council, objected, saying there was neither sufficient public notice nor adequate requests for proposals. He was shot down by Walkup's chief PAG monkey, Paul Loomis, the big-time mayor/parliamentarian of Oro Valley.

SIGN UP OR SHUT UP: Pima County Prime Minister Chuck Huckelberry dealt with countless panders from Raúl Grijalva during the latter's 14 years on the Board of Supervisors. Huckelberry indulged some and ignored others. He properly swatted one cooked up by Raúl's daughter Adelita Grijalva during her first meeting as a member of the Tucson Unified School District board.

To Adelita's meddling resolution that the county maintain Kino Community Hospital as "a full-service hospital" (which, by the way, it never has been), Huckelberry said it was time for TUSD to put its money where its big mouths are.

"In reviewing our contracts at Kino Community Hospital, we noticed that we do not have any revenue service contracts with TUSD," Huckelberry told Superintendent Stan Paz. "We would be happy to enter into contracts for occupational medicine, rehabilitation services, and other similar contracts where the employees of TUSD can be directly referred to Kino services.

"We appreciate your resolution and would likewise appreciate your business," Huckelberry said.

A political football for much of its 26-year history, Kino would benefit greatly if Adelita would now push through meaningful TUSD personnel policies that open Kino and the county's HMO, the Pima Health Plan, to TUSD's 8,000 employees.

IT'S ALIVE! IT'S ALIVE! Shortly after Republican leaders unveiled the budget they'd stitched together, it got up off the table and launched a mad rampage that killed thousands.

Well, judging from the negative press, it might as well have. The GOP proposal cuts health insurance for kids and the poor, cheats education, bleeds universities, screws seniors and sells off everything from Arizona Highways to the state prison system.

Gov. Janet Napolitano charitably called it a starting point last week, but this nutso proposal stinks so bad that even Republicans are running for cover. The end result: The Republicans look like a bunch of cold-hearted, brain-dead, short-sighted goofballs and Janet wins the week again.

FINALLY, A BUDGET CUT THAT MAKES SENSE: Democrats are whining something fierce about the GOP leadership's plan to cut funding for the 2004 presidential primary, saving taxpayers $3 million. State party chair Jim Pederson says the move will screw Democrats because the Republican nomination is all sewed up anyhow.

National Democratic Party rules have blocked Arizona Dems from participating in the early primary, which the Legislature set in early February back in '96. Lawmakers were following orders from then-Gov. J. Fife Whiteguy III and Super-Sen. John McCain, who were trying to help Texas Sen. Phil Gramm score a big win. (If you'll recall, Gramm was such a lousy candidate he'd dropped out of the race by the time primary day arrived and bazillionaire vanity candidate Steve Forbes ended up buying his big win of the season.)

So with new rules in place, the Democrats were all set to capture the national spotlight, allow Arizona to have a voice in the presidential race, yadda yadda yadda. Yeah, yeah--sell it somewhere else. Unlike New Hampshire or Iowa, Arizona is too big for any real grassroots activity, so the win goes to whomever plasters himself all over TV screens. And that's whoever decides to spend the most money out here. Thanks, but we'll pass on the chance to be part of that farce. And if the Democrats really want to play politics, they can pay for it themselves.

CAPRIC(E)IOUS: Midtown Republican Councilman Fred Ronstadt, bitter over the exposure he, Mayor Bob Walkup and Councilwoman Kathleen Dunbar received over their taxpayer-provided hybrid Prius cars, struck back at Democrat Steve Leal for driving a clunker 1987 Caprice.

Ronstadt elevated the nonsense that City Hall cannot escape from, even though serious problems--a $35 million deficit--loom. He ordered up a review of maintenance and expense records for council cars. The Tucson Citizen then ran with the spoon-fed information that claimed the city spent more than $30,000 to keep Leal's gun-metal gray Chevy on the road. Three engines, tires, new paint, blah, blah, blah. This waste-of-time exercise shows how ludicrous government accounting can be. How much, for example, does it cost city mechanics to change a wiper blade? It also revealed that it may be time to privatize city auto and fleet services. Anybody ever hear of a warranty?

Back when Leal took office in December 1989, we remember that a car phone and its installation were more expensive than the value of worn-out Honda Civic he was then driving.

Ronstadt "sacrificed" his 2002 Prius after Leal blew the whistle late last year--information spoon fed to the Citizen's "rival" the Arizona Daily Star--about the mayor's and Dunbar's new Prius cars with navigation systems. Dunbar, who had boasted during her first year in office about driving her own Jeep Liberty, was so skittish that she didn't take delivery of the Prius.

The public really doesn't give a damn if council members have city cars. Take what's available in the overstocked motor pool. Don't cry for holier-than-thou Ronstadt, the mayor and Dunbar. They take the $300 monthly car allowance.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY: Gov. Janet Napolitano made a good move to name former state Sen. Elaine Richardson, a fellow Democrat, to head the Department of Real Estate. Richardson knows the industry and the angels and devils who toil in it. Among Napolitano's job handouts, this is a worthy one. Richardson has paid her dues. She also would have been well suited for the opening on the Board of Executive Clemency.

But yikes when it comes to placement of S.L. "Si" Schorr on the state Transportation Board. He's a top Mr. Fix-It who has served as a mouthpiece for the land speculators and the Growth Lobby for decades. At least he won't be in charge of Real Estate.

Finally, smart move to dump Linda Arzoumanian, the Republican Pima County school superintendent, from the state Board of Education. After all that work for the Grijalvas, Arzoumanian should be downright furious.

HALF-BAKED FULL-COURT PRESS: Did we really need a week of front-page headlines about allegations that a couple of UA basketball players may have knocked over a candy machine in Kansas? Did we really need team coverage from TV ding-a-lings who could do little more than report why no one thinks Candygate is a story? Look, this is one-time sports page trivia. We're not advocating ignoring it, but we do think a story ought to have, you know, maybe a development to rate a Page 1 follow-up.

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