The Skinny


Pima Prime Minister Chuck Huckelberry is making all the right overtures to gain support for his record $732.2 million borrowing plan, slated to go to voters in a six-item menu on May 18. The Huck doesn't want to shoot himself in the foot, so he is pledging access to the lands that will be bought up with the $174.3 million in open-space bonds forming the foundation of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.

And after they got shafted in the 1997 bonds, with money shifts and sleight of hand, the gun guys are in line to get two shooting ranges. One at the fairgrounds on South Houghton Road is in the works, while the other, at 7777 E. Valencia Road, will be purchased if the bonds pass. Huckelberry notified the owners of Desert Trails Gun Club late last week that the county will pay $1 million for the shooting range, contingent upon bond passage.

Hardly a soul has risen to oppose the open-space bonds. Polling shows widespread support for the ambitious habitat conservation plan. The Friends of Sonoran Desert political committee is reloading after already spending most of the $76,000 it raised through the end of 2003, according to reports filed with the county Elections Division. The Sonoran Institute popped for $28K. And $9,500 was paid out to the Santa Monica, Calif., firm that did the polling.

Some aren't playing by the rules. Those pushing the pre-determined, up-to-$12.1-million purchase of the 695-acre Sweetwater Preserve have not registered as groups that are expending resources to influence the outcome of the election are required to do. Neither the powerful Tucson Mountains Association nor the Sweetwater Preserve committee has filed paperwork with the county, even though they pushing passage of the open-space bond in mailings and Web sites.


The goofy coalition of some Game and Fish commissioners and the hunting cartel in the Wildlife Conservation Council missed so badly last week in the Legislature that their muskets should be taken away. Hays Gilstrap, the powerful Game & Fish commissioner, has played nonstop games with the immensely popular Ben Avery Shooting Facility, dangling it for real estate speculation and other commercial uses with the WCC's help. It's worth noting that Gilstrap's wife, Suzanne, and daughter, Courtney, are Phoenix lobbyists who work for the WCC.

Still, the House of Representative voted 57-0 (that's ZERO) to pass a bill that seeks to protect Ben Avery and other shooting ranges.


While the policy wonks in Tucson blather about "metro government" combining Tucson with Pima County, the suburbs continue their steady expansion. Marana now has 70-plus square miles and enough zoning on the books for 2 million people, while Oro Valley has almost 40,000 residents.

For years, both northwest-area communities have had city governments that were basically front groups for upstate and foreign developers. But change may be coming.

Reform candidates led the tickets in both categories for all five Town Council seats in Oro Valley's just-completed mail-in primary election. (An Oro Valley reform candidate is defined as anybody not getting campaign money from Vistoso Partners, a Scottsdale development firm that has more or less run the town for many years.)

Oro Valley just expanded the council from four to six members and now elects a mayor separately. Councilwoman Paula Abbott and Mayor Paul Loomis are not up for re-election, because they're completing the two years left in their current terms. Abbott has often been the lone rangerette on the generally spineless council, and Loomis is showing some signs of independence.

Here's the lowdown on the rest of the council: There are two seats open for two-year terms and three seats for four-year terms, making this a seminal election that the major media are pretty much ignoring.

In the two-year race, four candidates survived the primary; the top two finishers get elected. Reform advocate Connie Culver led the ticket, followed by Ken "K.C." Carter. Trailing both were the two incumbents, Dick Johnson and Bart Rochman. The two incumbents ran as a team, but there are signs the ticket may be splitting.

In the four-year race, six candidates are now vying for three seats. Reformers Helen Dankworth and Barry Gillaspie finished first and second. Third place went to Terry Parish, who is playing both sides of the fence. Rounding things out were two realtors, Lyra Done and Don Cox, along with Richie Feinberg, who has no noticeable alliances. Done, incidently, was defeated by Abbott two years ago.

It ain't over 'til it's over, and the trailing candidates could pick up enough votes from the primary's losers to move up. However, unlike some previous challengers to the Vistoso Partners power base, this batch of reform candidates is sharp, knowledgeable and not inclined to the social or political blunders of prior non-establishment types.

The May 18 general election will not be mail-in only, because it'll be combined with the Pima County bond election, which may change the mix of who votes and even increase the turnout above the March primary's 34.6 percent. Some candidates may go the route that Johnson used before: Loan the campaign cash which was covered after the election by contributions that, while legal, would have made their development connections both obvious and a political liability.


Something strange happened in Oro Valley Monday, March 15: A development outfit didn't get the deal it cut with the town staff. The Oro Valley Town Council didn't go so far as to vote it down, but by a 3-2 vote, continued the item to the April 7 meeting.

Phoenix developer Vestar hoped to work out an Economic Development Agreement involving how much sales-tax revenue they'll be allowed to keep for building a shopping center. This is little-known trend in government: You not only get the Wal-Mart; you get to pay them to move in.

In fairness, this isn't about Wal-Mart, and Vestar does do class stuff. But they want compensation for the upfront costs of re-making 100 acres of flood plain at Tangerine and Oracle roads. The original deal gave them 64 percent of all town sales-tax revenues from the shopping center for the first five years and a sliding scale downward for the next nine. The total subsidy is estimated at somewhere around $100 million. The biggest argument in favor is that the town, desperate for more cash, will collect more from the remaining share than if the deal wasn't cut.

Opponents' response: "Are you kidding?" They rejected the argument that no one else would develop the area in the fastest-growing town in the state, disputed the need to subsidize Vestar and otherwise poked holes in the presentation.

So did Mayor Paul Loomis, who got more concessions from the applicant in about an hour than his staff did in months. His motion to continue was supported by Councilwoman Paula Abbott and--surprise!--the normally supplicating Councilman Bart Rochman. Council members Werner Wolff and Dick Johnson were, as usual, in support of whatever the developer wanted and in a hurry for it to get delivered.


Ruben Ruiz, the tough-guy principal of Maxwell Middle School, is on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into his actions at the westside school and beyond. Ruiz is the once-favored administrator who was allowed to hire his brother-in-law, Josh Camarena, as a monitor and permanent substitute, even though Camarena smacked around a Maxwell student. A previous TUSD investigation showed that Ruiz failed to properly report that incident, though Ruiz and other TUSD principals had just been given a stern lecture about reporting all incidents. No exceptions.

Ruiz's "time out" comes as a Maxwell teacher abruptly resigned. Camarena, meanwhile, rebounded with a permanent sub job at Tucson High School.

Paul Karlowicz, president of the Tucson Education Association, said it is not clear if TUSD pulled Ruiz for multiple complaints by teachers over his management style or if this is just a TUSD house cleaning.

One thing is certain, Karlowicz said: The Ruiz-run Maxwell is an underperforming school that is a "very difficult" place to work for teachers and staff.

Ruiz lawyered up, but has declined comment.

Not long ago, Ruiz told a reporter interviewing him about Camarena: "I'm going to have to ask you to leave."

Wonder if that's what TUSD told him?


Be sure to grab a ticket for the Roast and Toast of the Rev. John Fife, longtime minister at the Southside Presbyterian Church and a founding member of the 1980s Sanctuary Movement. The bash is Sunday, March 21, at the Student Union Ballroom at the UA. The reception and silent auction (will that include some samples of cut barbwire?) begin at 5:30 p.m., with the banquet and roast running from 7 to 9 p.m.

Fife is a Tucson treasure--an activist who actually is active; a righteous man who is never self-righteous; a man of the cloth who is never condescendingly pious. And when you offer a toast, he'll stick with a non-alcoholic splash, having won his bout with the booze long ago.

Tickets are $75 and proceeds benefit the Asylum Program of Southern Arizona. This marks the 18th anniversary of Fife's and other Sanctuary operatives' convictions in the U.S. District Court in Tucson. In true Fife style, the ticket price is negotiable for those not quite flush.

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