The Skinny

LET'S BOND: After all kinds of feel-good citizen and partisan committee meetings, Pima County is back to a bond package that is just $1 million more than the $450 million that Pima Prime Minister Chuck Huckelberry proposed months ago.

Voters will get their shot at this proposal, anchored by the $180 million for open space, at a special election in May. The open space proposal was the catalyst to the entire bond package for Huckelberry, the Board of Supervisors and other county officials who were happy to supply add-ons that once boosted the projected total to nearly $1 billion. Now open space is down $70 million from the dreamy $250 million that activists wanted.

City Hall is already whining that Tucson is getting short shrift. It provided a wish list of $650 million worth of county-financed projects--a real trick when the total package is $451 million. City Manager James Keene and his City Council, particularly Republican Mayor Bob Walkup and Republican Vice Mayor Fred Ronstadt, have cried for months that the county bond money should be spent primarily within the city because, they contend with utmost ignorance, city residents pay more than half of the county's tax revenues. They're wrong on a couple of counts.

First of all, there's an underlying value to preserving open space, be it for Tucson Mountain Park or the Tortolitas, as part of the county's Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, which city officials have largely dismissed. And it's not like open space in the city limits is automatically closer to city residents than open space in the county. People who live on the west side are a lot closer to the county's Tucson Mountain Park than they are to eastside Udall Park.

That aside, the city officials are wrong on the numbers, too. A five-second look at the net assessed value of the city--$2.4 billion--is less than half of the net assessed value of the entire county--$5.2 billion.

Moreover, a new analysis by Bruce Basemann, a former deputy county assessor, shows that more than 46 percent of the full cash value (price based on immediate cash purchase) of property in Pima County lies in unincorporated portions. More to the point for homeowners, Basemann's study shows that nearly 26 percent of the net assessed residential property value that is used for calculations of debt tax actually lies in unincorporated Pima County. City residential value makes up just 17.6 percent of that portion of countywide property.

Put that under the Keene-Walkup-Ronstadt myth.

One thing is for sure: Pima County voters and taxpayers took a beating in the last bond that was supposed to pour $11.5 million for new courtrooms in the Superior Court Building, 110 W. Congress St. There's a much improved jury assembly room, but the clerk's space for the public, litigants and even litigators to view cases is shameful. It is like going to someone's kitchen, complete with those odd yellow cabinets behind the counter. Huckelberry, Republican Court Clerk Patti Noland and the supes need to check out Maricopa County's set up--a spacious, user-friendly library setting in what is Phoenix's lower downtown. It is so good that it ranked a Best of Phoenix this year in New Times.

TO THE VOLLNER GOES THE SPOILS: Local art lovers still hoping that popular curator Joanne Stuhr would be rehired by the Tucson Museum of Art can stop hoping. The TMA has hired Stephen Vollmer, an expert in Latin American art, to take over Stuhr's former position as curator of the art of the Americas, effective Jan. 15. The museum has not announced the hire yet, and details on Vollmer's background are sketchy. He was one of four finalists for the job, chosen from among 18 applicants, and the only one brought to town for an in-person interview. Currently resident in Mexico, he holds a master's degree and speaks Spanish fluently. In a rigorous series of interviews over two days, he wowed everybody with the breadth of his knowledge.

He'll need those smarts when he starts his new job at the troubled museum, where staffers are still shaken by the treatment meted out to Stuhr. A respected 13-year veteran of the museum, she was fired abruptly Aug. 4 by TMA executive director Laurie Rufe, who had been on the job just one year. Rufe ordered Stuhr out of the building by the end of the day, and denied her any severance pay. Rufe has refused to explain her actions, citing privacy rules, but her ouster of Stuhr prompted numerous museum patrons and donors to withdraw their art from the museum, and to cancel promised gifts. It also ignited a firestorm of bad publicity. Vollmer may be an expert in the art of the Americas, but whether he's got the people skills to lure the angry collectors back to the museum fold remains to be seen.

TECHNICAL FOUL: Brian Peabody is off to a world-class start as a poor-mouthing, not-my-fault crybaby as men's basketball coach at Pima Community College.

Aided by sob sister Brian J. Pedersen of the Arizona Daily Star, Peabody rationalized his recent losses instead of just sucking it up. The Aztecs got blown out, 101-75 by Glendale, in their home opener. No shame. Glendale is talented. But at Scottsdale, Peabody's crew was up by 16 with less than four minutes to go but managed to lose 79-73 after Scottsdale, as the Star reported, went on a 22-0 run.

"They're not used to winning games yet," Peabody told the ever-ready Pedersen.

No coaching errors in that final 3:50?

What's worse is that Peabody conned Pedersen into writing a preview that claimed Pima was a "perennial doormat" of the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference.

That's a nice slap at Randall Moore, the Pima athletic director and former Aztec basketball coach, as well as Mike Lopez, who also did a good job coaching at Pima. Moore, by the way, was a zillion-times better player (at Pueblo and Abilene Christian) than Peabody (a bench-warmer at Sahuaro).

Peabody, given the run this year after Salpointe Catholic High School bosses could no longer take his costly arrogance, also got away with telling Star readers that Pima previously attracted no local talent because it was the school of last resort for neglected hoopsters. Really? Even the uneducated observer knows that Jeff Clark was talented enough to play elsewhere, say in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference that includes small four-year schools in Colorado and New Mexico. So was the talented and hard-working Diego Vargas and high-scoring Tomas Castillo.

This is all part of Peabody's shtick: Bad mouth to knock expectations down to the lowest level. Wonder if he does that in his real-estate speculation business? He's racked up impressive records after taking over programs--Green Fields, St. Gregory's and Salpointe--that had previous success and good stock.

BEAM HIM UP: James Lee Kirk, lover of 1965 fastback Mustangs, precise elocution, velveteen sport jackets and shoe-box management of tax receipts, survived an improbable 32-year run as Pima County's Republican treasurer. He could not endure assorted ailments and died last week. Kirk, who also served on the City Council, was one of the last of the old school pols who were averse to knowledge-sharing and technology. For friends in business, he ran a fine shop, with receipts, change, favors and whatever, in a shoebox under his desk in the Old County Courthouse. He lunched at the same table with the same "girlfriend" he happened to make his chief deputy until some small infraction by a cook or waiter sent him to another spot. So long, Kirk, you enigmatic anachronism.

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