The Skinny

TELL THEM VALDEZ IS COMING: It is a long overdue and fantastic move by the city to name the Main Library for the library's father, Joel D. Valdez, a rare gentleman who is the finest city manager Tucson will likely ever see.

The son of Sonora, Mexico, natives who had not gone to high school, Valdez was born south of the library site, across from St. Augustine Cathedral. Education was priority numero uno at his house and young Valdez, a pitcher at Tucson High, developed a newspaper route into a successful carrier business that helped pay his way through the University of Arizona.

Now the senior vice president for business affairs at the UA, Valdez started his career in government after graduating from the UA in 1957 by becoming as a juvi probation officer for Pima County. He monitored, prodded and guided some delinquents who would become key community activists and politicians. He entered city government eight years later as an assistant to the library director. He moved to City Hall in 1970 and became an assistant manager in 1971. Three years later, the City Council chose him from a huge list of itinerant municipal managers to be the top man. Councils were much smarter then, tapping local talent rather than wasting time, money and patience on the have-gun-will-travel, gypsy managers who have no stake in the community. Do Michael Brown and James Keene come to mind?

Valdez ran the city for 16 years, a stunning feat in a profession that usually yields two-year tenures. In the city's anachronistic strong-manager government, he was The Power. Though unelected, he commanded a constituency far greater than any mayor or councilman could wet his pants over.

Valdez got Ivy-ized with advanced studies in Harvard University's Senior Managers in Government program. He also hung out with those nerds at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

But for all that, and his control over the city's then-half-billion-dollar budgets and 4,000-person workforce, Valdez was incredibly soft-spoken and humble. For all his financial wizardry in buildings, roads and capital projects at the city and the UA, Valdez is about people, not bricks and mortar. He was the head of a bureaucracy who was easily offended by officious bureaucrats and meddlesome rules. He delighted, for example, in subverting City Hall's own fine print to override a parks director's bullying of Presidio Park's original hot dog stand.

Valdez presided over a record $300 million bond campaign in 1984, one that was marred by a promoter's trouble with white powder in the office. Valdez calmed all that and won voter support, including $15 million for the new Main Library, to replace the aging Carnegie, now the Tucson Children's Museum.

Libraries, Valdez said, evened the playing field. They were, he frequently said, the "peoples' university."

The Main Library was saddled with controversy because of bad real estate deals and cost overruns (final bill: $20 million). Valdez described the design as "slick," but an abundance of grass and water-guzzling trees--part of a design by a landscape architect from wet Houston--had to be cut back. Budget problems delayed opening--Valdez was long gone when the first book was checked out--and imperious Director Marcia Lowell King didn't help with her extravagant office furniture. (Maybe she'll hook up with the Oro Valley library.)

When Valdez finally grew too weary of City Council in 1990, then-UA President Henry "Sweater Weather" Koffler made a smart move to lure Valdez, and he's since taught three presidents how to modernize the campus and bring the UA's finances out of the dark ages.

Valdez can handle all the big stuff--the buildings, the new Student Union, the troublesome contractors--so well and so gracefully that his talents may be taken for granted. But the real beauty of this man is his quiet, effective help for people: the student who needs a job that he will do well, the UA gardener or maintenance worker who needs a schedule change to take care of a ill daughter, the professor who is confounded by the real world.

Throughout his public career, Valdez has not suffered in the pocket book. But he could have made more. He made nothing close to the heavy salaries handed to municipal managers who cannot shine his shoes. He has repeatedly declined raises and hands out the money to his staff.

The Main Library, 101 N. Stone Ave., will be renamed the Joel D. Valdez Main Library at a ceremony Feb. 27--that's the day this paper officially hits the streets--at 10 a.m.

DELAYED IMPACT: Mayor Bob Walkup calls 'em the accomplishment of 2002, but it looks like the city won't be collecting impact fees until 2004--if then. The city is going to pay a Texas firm $68K to figure out what kinds of fees the city can legally charge. That'll only take another 10 months. After that, the city will have to do yet another study to come up with hard numbers, along with a lengthy public participation process.

Can we stop jerking around? We know what's gonna happen here: The council will realize that charging a higher fee than the county (which is supposed to go up to about $3,000 per house) will drive sprawl, so they'll set it near the county level.

All the council members except Republican Kathleen Dunbar are expressing some level of support for impact fees. So why aren't there four votes to quit wasting time, hire someone who can crunch some goddamn numbers and come up with decent estimate in less than a year, so we can get on with the business of taking a dive back down to $2,500 per house?

ANOTHER SCRATCH: Having tossed her hat into the ring last month, community activist Yolanda Herrera la Fond is already throwing in the towel, abandoning her plan to challenge Ward 1 Councilman José Ibarra in September's Democratic primary. If you want to run against José, give Jesse Lugo a call. We hear he's out beating the bushes for another candidate. And there are those persistent rumors that a GOP candidate may yet come forward.

Meanwhile, Ward 2 Councilwoman Carol West has picked up a primary opponent in Democrat Lianda Ludwig, a political newcomer. Ludwig signed a campaign finance contract with the city back on Feb. 13. As of the end of last year, West had already raised $6,310, including two grand she lent her re-election campaign, according to reports filed with the city.

Speaking of fund raising, Ward 4 City Councilwoman Shirley Scott is leading the fund-raising race, having stashed away $9,102 of the $9,315 she had raised as of Dec. 31.

Seems like the slow economy is affecting fund raising by other council members. Recent campaign filings show that at the end of 2002, both Ibarra and Mayor Bob Walkup had raised no money for their respective re-election campaigns. Meanwhile, Democrat Tom Volgy, who wants his old mayoral job back, had lent his campaign $6,175, which he'd spent on a couple of polls. The only Democrat to formally announce so far, Volgy remains the odds-on favorite to win the party nomination. But will he have to fight for it? Light-rail guru Steve Farley isn't denying rumors that he may climb into the race.

One final rumor that's floating out there: political oddball Ed Finkelstein may jump into the mayoral race. Finkelstein, former publisher of the tabloid Arizona Examiner, last ran for mayor in 1991, when he lost the GOP primary to the late and legendary George Borozan. (Somehow, we think Borozan could beat The Fink even today.)

STATIC: We witnessed the charade that was the KXCI board meeting last week, where this was made crystal clear: The problem isn't with General Manager Tony Ford. The problem is with an undemocratic, insular, insensitive, arrogant board majority led by Rick Bacal, a thin-skinned coward who needs lessons on the First Amendment, Robert's Rules of Order, and, chiefly, on why it's called "Community Radio." Bacal's board is a dead-ringer for the old Amphi School board that had to be blown out of office by voters in 2000.

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