The Skinny


Previously in The Skinny: After losing her Ward 3 seat to Democrat Karin Uhlich last November, Republican Kathleen Dunbar went forward with a defamation lawsuit against Uhlich, three retired schoolteachers, the Pima County Democratic Party, the Amphi School District and three players to be named later.

Dunbar said the defendants had caused her mental anguish by sending out a mailer that claimed that she had interceded in a deal between a developer and the Amphi School District to provide a quarter-million-dollar "donation" to help with school construction costs.

Uhlich's campaign piece was based on testimony given at a May 2004 City Council meeting by Amphi Associate Superintendent Todd Jaeger, who noted in a contemporaneous memo to his boss that Dunbar berated him over the phone in a "bizarre" conversation during which Jaeger says Dunbar told him sarcastically that he was so smart, and she was just a dumb idiot who "lived under a mushroom."

Dunbar, who denied making the phone call (or blocking the deal between Amphi and the developer in any way), had her attorney, Stephen Gonzales, formally serve the defendants last month, but the case appears to be rapidly unraveling.

One claim, for false-light invasion of privacy, has already been withdrawn, mainly because Arizona law makes it clear that public officials have no right to sue on those grounds. Doesn't it seem like that's the sort of thing you'd like your attorney to know before filing a lawsuit?

Another claim, against Jaeger, is on equally shaky legal ground, because Dunbar didn't complain about his comments at the 2004 City Council meeting until they came up in the 2005 campaign, which was well past the legal deadline for a defamation action.

Bill Risner, the attorney defending Uhlich and some of the other defendants, says he planned to move to dismiss the entire case sometime this week.

"It's all crap," Risner says. "It is totally, totally baseless. It's as bad a lawsuit as any you're going to see."

Dunbar said she couldn't comment on the suit.


Who would have thought a billion-dollar raid on the state treasury would prove so contentious? The city's effort to extend the Rio Nuevo taxing district for an additional 30 years has been a political circus.

First, there were the suggestions that the city had sold out the local public-access outfit by taking a dive on the cable bill that limited Tucson's negotiating power with cable companies in exchange for support on Rio Nuevo from House Speaker Jim Weiers--allegations that the principals in the alleged deal have denied, of course.

Then there was the ruckus raised by folks like Rep. Ted Downing and former Mayor George Miller, who have unsuccessfully argued--so far--that Tucson voters should have a chance to vote on whether to extend Rio Nuevo's life.

Now there's an effort to torpedo the legislation in the state Senate. Guess who's among the critics bagging on Rio Nuevo? None other than Kathleen Dunbar.

Dunbar is pals with state Sen. Barbara Leff, who happens to chair the Senate Commerce and Economic Development Committee, where the Rio Nuevo legislation is now tied up.

Dunbar has been involved with Rio Nuevo from the start. Back in 1999, as a member of the House, she worked to pass the original legislation that allowed the city to create the special taxing district, which lets the city retain half the sales taxes normally sent to the state, as long as the city matches those funds.

Later that year, she made an amusing appearance in front of the Tucson City Council to inform them they shouldn't put the plan before voters, arguing that her fellow lawmakers would be upset, mostly because city staff bent the legislation all out of shape by stretching Rio Nuevo's boundaries out of downtown and all the way down Broadway Boulevard to Park Place, so the city could capture new sales-tax revenues that had nothing to do with downtown revitalization.

After the council ignored her humble request and voters approved the plan, Dunbar started taking credit for Rio Nuevo in her 2001 campaign for City Council and became a big downtown booster--at least until she lost office.

Dunbar says she's only up at the Capitol at Leff's request for a briefing on how Rio Nuevo is working out.

"I'm getting way too much credit for this, as far as trying to kill Rio Nuevo," says Dunbar, who wanted to keep her name out of the whole business because she's now a "private citizen."

Sounds like she's turning into someone who lives under a mushroom!


The Arizona House of Representatives voted 59-1 to pass a resolution urging the State Land Department to work to preserve Fantasy Island, the network of mountain-bike trails near Irvington and Houghton roads that happens to sit on state-trust land that Land Department staffers want to auction off for the construction of more condos and houses.

That's a lot more support than Gov. Janet Napolitano has offered. When we asked her a couple of weeks ago what kind of commitment she had to preserving the local treasure, she said simply: "I can't answer that question." We think with those words, she actually made her level of commitment quite clear.

Meanwhile, the city's Fantasy Island Task Force delivered a letter to City Manager Mike Hein last Friday, March 10, that recommended the city begin a conceptual-planning process with the Land Department.

"Because considerable interest exists in the development community for the creation of such a planning process, and because the Tucson community is growing very restless about a resolution of the Fantasy Island issue, we believe this planning partnership should be formally proposed to the State Land Department by the City Manager's Office as soon as possible," said co-signers Sue Clark and Linda Anderson-McKee.

The task force also rejected a proposal by the State Land Department to relocate Fantasy Island to another piece of state land north of the current location. One main reason: It's a flat piece of property, which makes for lousy mountain biking--a niggling detail that was evidently overlooked by the real-estate kingpins at the Land Department. Here's a clue, gang: location, location, location.


Former Arizona Senate President John Greene has come to the same conclusion we arrived at some time ago: He doesn't have a prayer of winning this year's GOP gubernatorial primary. Greene exited the race earlier this week, saying that he couldn't find enough support for his business-friendly, gun-friendly, abortion-friendly campaign.

Greene, a lawyer who represented the fiscally conservative, socially moderate wing of the party, realized he wasn't going to be able to outdo the more conservative candidates: Don Goldwater and Len Munsil. Also in the running: Former state appeals court judge Jan Smith Florez and a handful of other political wannabes who will have little to no impact on the race.

Greene's biggest impact on the race may have been chasing Mary Peters out the gubernatorial race. Peters, a former director of the Arizona Department of Transportation, quit her job in the Bush administration to come back to Arizona to run for governor, but dropped out of the race after Greene threatened legal action to disqualify her because she hadn't been an Arizona resident for the last five years.

Greene's decision to quit now underlines just how well Napolitano has seized the political center. The moderate Republicans that Greene had hoped to grab are placing their bets on the Napster instead.

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