DATA DUMPPima County had until last Friday, Jan. 11, to hand over to the Pima County Democratic Party the election-database files that the Board of Supervisors voted to turn over at their drama-filled Jan. 8 meeting.
The best decision the board made that day was to hold the discussion and the vote on whether to appeal the Dems' lawsuit victory in public rather than in executive session. Before the meeting, the Pima County Web site listed the lawsuit topic under "executive session" on the meeting agenda.
Media coverage of the meeting focused on John Brakey shouting to let more people speak; he almost got himself kicked out. The result was 60 voices chanting in unison. But according to Jim March, who assisted Democratic Party attorney Bill Risner with the Dems' lawsuit, the vote to let the Dems have all of the files occurred after March told the supes there was no security risk in giving the Dems the files.
Once John Moffatt, Pima County's IT director, reluctantly agreed that was true, the supes unanimously voted to release all of the 2006 general and primary files, as well as all of the Regional Transportation Authority election files, according to March.
Prior to the lawsuit, the Democrats asked Judge Michael Miller to lock a hard drive with all of the database files in a courthouse vault. Risner told the county that they wanted to retrieve the files from that vault.
Risner went so far as to write a letter to Pima County Attorney Chris Straub outlining the protocol the Democrats preferred regarding the transfer of the files, to maintain security. Risner and crew felt that Moffatt's plan to hand over the files was too risky. The county said it wanted to use a sheriff's escort to transfer the files from the Elections Division office. The county also wanted to place the data onto county-owned used laptops.
Risner told Straub the Dems preferred to download the data directly onto a brand-new laptop that they would provide. They also wanted to videotape the transfer, even though Moffatt said no cameras would be allowed.
According to Risner, the transfer of the files ended up happening exactly as the Democrats wanted on Friday--although they didn't leave the building until 10:30 p.m.
The Democratic Party has reached out to elections and database experts around the country, asking them to begin building a computer program that can analyze the database files. Risner says you just can't eyeball the files; you need a computer to check the results. Once the program is completed, it could potentially be posted on the Internet for other election-integrity activists around the country to use for their own database analyses.
Risner says the program will have to be Diebold-specific, but most elections offices throughout the U.S. use Diebold systems in any case.
This all means that the fight is over, right? Well, no. Risner says they are going to request the remaining election files all the way back to 1996.
"They're all public records," Risner says. "And we want them."
ANOTHER REVOLTING DEVELOPMENTIn Marana, the end of 2007 welcomed new development--along with some heavy-duty criticism from local desert-protection activists.
Last week, the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection pointed out that a 300-unit development approved by Marana would destroy prime desert on the Hardy Wash. The project is called DeAnza, and contradicts the habitat-conservation planning the town of Marana is currently working on, according to green queen Carolyn Campbell, executive director of the coalition.
Almost 500 signatures were given to the town in December from citizens challenging the Marana Town Council's vote to approve the rezone. The signatures checked out, and the fate of the Hardy Wash will be left to Marana voters, in March 2009. If the voters defeat the rezone, the original zoning--that allows one house per 25 acres--will be reinstated.
Trouble is, Lawrence Schubart, a lawyer for DeAnza parent company Red Point Development, recently contacted Marana town attorney Frank Cassidy to let him know they'll sue if the town puts the referendum on the ballot. The lawyer contends the signatures were not filed on time. The Town Council is slated to discuss the possible lawsuit in executive session on Tuesday, Jan. 22.
"This development (would destroy) 70 percent of the land in and around a very sensitive area, identified in the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan as an Important Riparian Area. The Town Council has a stated policy requiring rezonings in the Tortolita Fan to protect 70 percent of project sites as natural, undisturbed open space, which is essentially reversed on this development," Campbell stated in a release. "Marana should consistently implement conservation and smart-growth tenets and require proper protection for natural areas."
Marana residents are also concerned about the development. Carolyn Nessinger, a resident of a subdivision directly south of DeAnza, filed the referendum. Nessinger worries that "the increase in traffic created by all these new houses was not taken into consideration by Marana. Cortaro Road is a nightmare, and this development, as currently planned, will only add to the problems."
Marana is developing a Habitat Conservation Plan, an example of which is the county's Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. Campbell holds up DeAnza as "a perfect example of the disconnect between Marana's regional conservation goals and current land-use decisions being made by the town."
Campbell says her coalition has been in talks with the developers of the DeAnza project since filing the referendum. Progress is being made on a reconfiguration of the project that would better protect the riparian area and contribute to wildlife movement within the Tortolita Fan.
"It is unfortunate that collaboration is taking place after the rezoning process," Campbell notes. "The Town Council could have directed staff and the developer to address our issues, but failed to take a leadership role."
MEANWHILE, OVER IN ORO VALLEY ...That State Land Department sure is busy these days! First comes the news that they're hooking up with Westcor to plan 12,000 acres on Tucson's southeast side. (Frankly, after shopping at the upscale foothills shopping mall last weekend, we thought to ourselves: Why not have all of Tucson 2.0 feel like you're shopping at La Encantada? What a beautiful world that would be.)
Now we learn that Land Department planners are cozying up to Oro Valley officials to get some 9,000 acres north of OV annexed into the town.
Say, you don't suppose they're doing that so they won't have to deal with the county's pesky Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, do you?
County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry supports most of the State Land Department's general plan for the area, especially since it sets aside 68 percent as natural open space.
But Huckelberry remains worried about the details of where all that open space is going to be. In a recent memo to the Land Department and Oro Valley officials, he noted that the current plan could allow 700 or more units and a resort in areas that are wildlife corridors and that should remain as open space. Development in that area would hinder the ability of critters to move between the county's Tortolita Mountain Park and the Catalina Mountains. Plus, the topography of much of the area isn't all that good for development, anyhow.
Huckelberry has proposed allowing the county to sign on to a pre-annexation agreement to hold Oro Valley and the Land Department to conservation-plan standards.
Will Oro Valley buy in? We'll find out soon enough: Public meetings begin later this month.