The Skinny

BILLBOARD BONANZA: Back during the 2000 legislative session, Karl Eller and his crew of lobbying weasels convinced the Arizona Legislature to pass a law that essentially created a two-year statute of limitations on the enforcement of billboard codes by municipal governments.

At the time, opponents said the law would undermine the city of Tucson's ongoing legal fight with local billboard barons, including Eller Media Company, which has since been sold to Clear Channel Outdoor, Inc.

Eller's lobbyist assured lawmakers they wouldn't use the new law on past cases, only on future ones.

"This bill is not retroactive," testified Wendy Briggs, who was representing the Arizona Outdoor Advertising Association. "Statutes of limitations cannot be applied retroactively."

Lawmakers narrowly passed the bill; in fact, City Councilwoman Kathleen Dunbar, then a Republican in the House of Representatives, provided the 31st vote to get the measure out of the House.

Shortly after the ink was dry on the new law, the billboard lawyers used it to retroactively challenge the city's complaints about 89 of these hideous erections. They won in Superior Court, but the city appealed the ruling.

On Halloween, the Arizona Court of Appeals sided with Clear Channel and ruled against the city of Tucson.

At this week's City Council meeting, the slim majority of Democrats followed City Attorney Michael House's recommendation to appeal the case to the Arizona Supreme Court.

Voting against the appeal were the three Republicans: Dunbar, Ward 6 Councilman Fred Ronstadt and Mayor Bob Walkup.

Walkup had resisted pressure from Eller and the billboard gang during his first term, but he took a dive on this one.

Bob Walkup flip-flopping on an issue? Imagine that!

MISSING A BEAT: Friday evening, the University of Arizona honored pioneer heart transplant surgeon Jack Copeland with an endowed chair. Copeland is clearly a local bigshot, with an incredible record of performing more than 650 heart transplants, founding a transplant program in 1979 that was one of the first in the nation, and, in 1985, becoming the first surgeon to successfully use an artificial heart. He is one of the most honored doctors in the nation.

Copeland was supposed to be honored with a Copper Letter from Mayor Bob Walkup, according to the printed program. But Walkup didn't show up; in fact, no one from the city was there. A member of the UA medical staff presented the plaque.

We recognize that Walkup has a serious illness in the family, which could certainly excuse his absence. But the mayor has double the staff of his predecessor, so at least one of them should be able to cover for him at events like this.

We would expect someone to have the brains to ask a member of the City Council to sit in for him. If that can't happen, a staff member ought to appear in his place, explain why he was absent, read a prepared statement, eat the rubber chicken and go home. That's their job.

And that's how a competent elected official would've handled it. But Walkup, with a local staff rivaling a U.S. senator's in size, hasn't figured that one out yet. And his staff continues to perform in the arrogant fashion that almost got them replaced by failing to show the proper respect to one of Tucson's leading citizens. So imagine how they treat "ordinary" folks.

DEFANGING DESEG: Mike Tully is a lawyer who is too smart and too plain spoken to be appreciated by the Tucson Unified School District, the outfit to which he devoted years of his professional life. He ran afoul of TUSD's nasty Queen Mum, lead counsel Jane Butler. But her attempt four years ago to fire him was so fraught with error that he was given a different job back in TUSD's version of an equal opportunity office. Superintendent Stan Paz finished Butler's work this year by placing Tully on one of the reorg-du jour hit lists, and Tully was finished.

He's back.

Tully has been chosen by Mexican-American representatives in the landmark desegregation suit that, 25 years after the stipulation of settlement, languishes in U.S. District Court in Tucson while taxpayers are fleeced for more than $60 million a year. Now Tully has petitioned Judge David Bury, new to the deseg case, to be appointed counsel for the Mexican-American parents of TUSD students.

Sounds fine to us. This is one time when a conflict, if there is one, should be waived for the greater good. Tully doesn't sugarcoat things, and he knows all about TUSD's lies, misappropriation of money and failure of TUSD to desegregate any better than George Wallace's Alabama.

The Mexican-American participants, known as the Mendoza class, have been without regular, sober counsel for more than a decade. Their last lawyer, Michael Zavala, was doped up, boozed up and disbarred when he died in his home in 1997.

Tully has shown, even in his petition for appointment, that he'll not be playing powder-puff. He notes that TUSD's hired gun, Dick Yetwin "has admitted that the district does not know whether or not it has accomplished desegregation sufficiently to release it from the conditions" of the settlement. Before he bailed from the case when his granddaughter hired Yetwin's firm for work on an unrelated matter, Senior Judge Alfredo C. Marquez broached the idea that TUSD get out of this deseg legal industry.

As Tully said in his federal court petition that was made public last week: "After the expenditure of tens of millions of dollars in the desegregation effort, and the current intense scrutiny the 'deseg' budget is under, it is offensive to the taxpayers and other stakeholders of the district that nobody seems to have a clue whether or not the funds were well spent and whether the district has effectively desegregated to any extent."

Shame on you, Tully! It's not "tens of millions," it is hundreds of million of dollars spent--more than $160 million in the last three years alone--with negligible results.

But wait: TUSD board President Joel T. Ireland is busy securing places for the lily-white Tanque Verde students at Sabino High, so Sabino can stay lily-white.

Tully wants Bury to order TUSD to pay his fee if he wins appointment. "Mr. Yetwin," Tully notes in his petition, "and his law firm (DeConcini McDonald Yetwin & Lacy) are compensated for the service they perform on behalf of the (TUSD) in this matter. It would be patently unjust for the other parties to go unrepresented or to have their legal counsel forced to work pro bono. That would hardly be a level playing field. There is no way to justify a situation wherein the prevailing parties are denied legal fees, but the losing party has paid legal counsel."

PRIMO RADIO: Medal of Honor recipient Leo Thorsness was appropriately ubiquitous on Veterans Day, in the morning daily, on the Today show and on a PBS special. Thorsness, who moved to SaddleBrooke several years ago, is a humble, gracious and well-spoken Air Force hero who spent six years in the Hanoi Hilton after he was knocked down while on a mission after rescuing six others during the Vietnam War.

Thorsness also has contributed to a book on Medal of Honor winners, Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty, which he will sign at Barnes & Noble, 5130 E. Broadway Blvd., on Nov. 13 at 7 p.m..

Four days before that whirlwind, Thorsness spoke on Emil Franzi's Inside Track show on KTKT 990 AM. Credit producer Mark Ulm for landing Thorsness for Franzi's pre-Vets Day show. Scheduling was no problem for Franzi, The Weekly's longtime automatic weapons editor. Said he: "I would bump the pope for a Medal of Honor winner."

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