The Skinny

CONFIDENCE MAN: Mayor Bob Walkup hauled out the usual sis-boom-bah for the annual State of the City speech last week. Hey, ho, let's go, we're better than the rest! Jobs and education, Tucson is the best! Gooooooo, team!

Bob is--surprise!--optimistic and confident about the future. The upcoming budget pinch will be solved with more cuts to city government, more fees for services and more "efficiency in government." Does that mean a monthly garbage fee is on the table? Play the budget game and see!

We'll give Walkup credit for getting the local jurisdictions on the same page regarding the Pima Association of Governments and pushing the effort at the Legislature to beef up the regional transportation group with taxing power--although the hard work of crafting a plan that voters will support with a half-cent sales tax remains to be done.

But can Bob prevail in his latest push for annexation of the roughly 120,000 folks living in unincorporated areas north of the Rillito River? The city has failed for decades to drag those folks into the city limits.

Bob himself has called for their annexation in previous State of the City speeches, only to drop the idea. It's clearly not a priority for City Manager James Keene, who has been much more interested in grabbing empty state land.

This year, the city is supporting a change in state law that would make it simpler for the city to expand its boundaries. The bill would give the city two years instead of one to persuade county residents to submit to annexation, as well as easing other technical requirements.

Even if it passes, assimilating 120,000 new residents will take decades. And we're still skeptical that it's such a hot idea. Sure, as Bob points out, it will bring another $60 million in state-shared revenues to the city's coffers. But the city still has to provide services to all those new citizens. The city would have to put out their fires, respond to their burglaries, pick up their garbage and patch their streets.

And it was just last week that officials from parks and rec and the library system said the city was woefully behind on providing services based on our population level. Adding a bunch of new people isn't gonna improve that ratio one bit.

ROCKY ROAD: In the State of the City, Mayor Bob Walkup floated the notion that the members of the council happily worked together to solve last year's budget crunch. Call us crazy, but we remember a deeply divided council, with three Democrats--Steve Leal, Shirley Scott and José Ibarra--voting against the final product.

How deep are divisions on the council? At this week's study session, a minor issue arose regarding the ongoing lawmaking circus up at the state Capitol. City lobbyist Mary Okoye updated the council on ongoing legislation of concern and asked a minor favor: She wanted the council to make the friendly gesture of supporting Maricopa County communities as they push to get their transportation package to the governor's desk. (And if you need evidence of how insane the Legislature can be, just follow that story in the Phoenix papers.)

Democrat Carol West made a motion to support the bill, but she couldn't get a second. Both Republicans, Kathleen Dunbar and Fred Ronstadt, were absent, and Walkup doesn't have the power to second a motion. So Leal, Scott and Ibarra decided it would be more fun to embarrass the mayor than to build a tiny bit of goodwill with our Maricopa brethren.

Get your tickets now for the upcoming budget discussions.

DOWN BY LAW: During the City Council's study session last Monday, Feb. 2, attorney Don Dybus had a seat in the front row, handing out his résumé to council members.

Dybus is no stranger to city politics; as the staff lawyer for Eller Media, Karl Eller's billboard outfit, the legal bulldog used to aggressively lobby city officials to call off legal efforts to enforce the city's billboard laws. He takes credit for writing the state law that has allowed the billboard companies to torpedo the city's efforts to enforce billboard codes.

Dybus was also a key player in Republican Matt Salmon's failed bid for governor back in 2002. After Salmon was knocked out by Democrat Janet Napolitano, Dybus had a rude awakening from his dreams of serving in a gubernatorial post.

Dybus dismisses his Republican Party campaign work as "all just partisanship." Back in the days when he did legal work for the city of Chicago, he was a Democrat, because that's how the system worked.

So what's Don up to now? He tells The Skinny he has a few corporate clients and has recently worked to get minority businesses off the ground, but his real dream is replacing City Attorney Michael House, who's on his way out of town later this year.

"It's the best way for me to continue to practice law," says Dybus, who adds that working for municipal government is "more of a calling than money ever was."

Dybus imagines his advocacy for billboard companies might raise eyebrows among some council members, but he suggests that his brilliant maneuvering through that process might make him a more attractive candidate.

"They'd be fortunate if I was selected," Dybus says.

Would a majority of council members really want to hire a guy who forced the city to spend a small fortune of taxpayer dollars to battle a long string of legal maneuvers so that billboards could remain hanging above our heads?

Hey, in today's topsy-turvy world, anything could happen. Some of the Democrats on the council who have clashed with him would probably rather hire Paris Hilton than Dybus. But others--such as Republicans Kathleen Dunbar and Fred Ronstadt, the billboard industry's lackeys--could see him as a real go-to guy.

SPEAKING OF BILLBOARD SHILLS: We heard Clear Channel's mouth that whines, Dave Sitton, the other day on one of the final weekday John C. Scott shows (now on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on KTKT-AM 990). Sitton cried that the Arizona Department of Transportation's work to widen Interstate 10 "disturbed" some Clear Channel billboards--"disturbed" them so badly that ever-sensitive Clear Channel developed huge, hideous erections to replace the old billboards.

Pima County is fighting the new boards, which are exceed the county size limits because they're roughly the size of Rhode Island.

Sitton, aided and abetted by Scott, also tried to weasel out of his AWOL status from a story about the 1-10 billboards in the Arizona Daily Star. Sitton claimed he never got a call to return. Bullshit.

It was encouraging to be reminded by Kiki Kinkade, in her letter to the Daily Star last week, of a different, better era of billboard battles that included less hand-wringing from local government, less waste on lawyers and consultants--and more action.

Kinkade was writing about the time a billboard company, in the cover of darkness, put up a billboard that overshadowed the venerable Palomino Restaurant operated by her mother Mary Gekas. Brilliant and the epitome of graciousness, Mary Gekas could also be flat tough with whatever "disturbed" her family or the Palomino, where McMahon's Prime Steak House is today. As Kinkade noted last Thursday, her mother called in a crew to cut down the billboard that had been installed in the then-new right of way of Swan Road. She spent $25,000, but the sign and nuisance were gone before the captain of the Palomino rang the bell for the first diners that night.

City and county government could use some of the Gekas' lack of patience with intruding billboards.

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