BREAK OUT THE GREEN EYESHADESAs the crisis that had the Tucson City Council teetering on the brink of firing City Manager Mike Hein neared its anti-climax last week, Ward 3 Councilwoman Karin Uhlich tossed out the idea of spending about a quarter-million bucks a year on a city auditor--a staffer who would answer to the council, not the city manager.
Some critics have suggested that instead of hiring another city staffer, each council member should hire an aide who knows the numbers racket.
But we're not among the complainers. We like the idea of a city employee whose main job is to get to the bottom of questions about the budget. Sounds like just the kind of guy we'd like to become friends with so we can ask him to look into all sorts of questions we might have about city spending. After all, if he's on the taxpayer's dime, he's obligated to look into our concerns, right?
You know who else will want to put the auditor to use? Other council members, especially when they want to embarrass their rivals on the council. And what about the candidates who challenge the incumbents?
Of course, the council could always say that the independent auditor can't take requests from ordinary citizens, but that doesn't sound especially transparent to us.
What's gonna happen when the auditor is asked to look into the pet projects that council members have in their wards? Will all of those slices of pork for neighborhood and job-training programs turn out to be as nutritious as the council would like us to believe?
By all means, hire an auditor. We can't wait to sit down for lunch.
THE ONLY DOWNSIDE: WE WON'T GET RESULTS UNTIL DECEMBERThe Pima County Board of Supervisors unanimously tackled the knotty challenge of election integrity last week, voting to enact a series of new procedures, including:
· Developing, in consultation with all Pima County political parties, a standard procedure for the turnover of future election databases, at the time of the approval of the official canvases for that election.
· Directing the elections director and, if necessary, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry to meet monthly with all political-party chairs to improve communications and to ensure the efficient, effective and secure conduct of Pima County elections.
· Having political-party chairs review county procedures on early-ballot tabulation and precinct-level transmission of results (by modem) to determine whether modifications are needed.
· Doubling the number of precincts where hand-counting verification is done over the legal minimum.
· Directing Huckelberry and county tech dude John Moffatt to employ two independent, accredited testing firms or laboratories to independently validate the integrity of software systems and databases for each election.
Before the meeting, Huckelberry sent a letter to his new pen pal, Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer.
Brewer, you may recall, sent out a stern letter--accompanied by a press release--regarding Pima County's election-reform plans.
With not much fanfare and in a far different tone than Brewer's, Huck replied in a letter on June 27.
"We appreciate your thorough and lengthy response and review of our report detailed in your 11-page letter of June 5, 2008," Huckelberry wrote. "We do not consider the recommendations to be problematic, unnecessary or unjustifiable. We certainly respect your opinions and comments and will make adjustments as appropriate in final action items recommended to the Board of Supervisors on this matter."
In our upcoming election, the county won't be scanning ballots and will continue to use touch-screen machines for disabled voters until changes come from the Legislature. Brewer wasn't too happy when Pima County proposed scanning some ballots and posting them on the Internet, and getting rid of those much-maligned touch-screen machines.
And by the way, Jan: Huckelberry says your office sent the Regional Transportation Authority election file to the wrong office and, evidently, you have no record of where it was sent.
These are good steps that Pima County is taking. It's worth exploring the idea of putting scanners at select polling places, but we can also see how a mixture of malfunctioning machinery and tech-challenged poll workers could easily turn into gallons of trouble.
The big question remains whether Brewer will try to block any of the remaining changes. Now that would be a showdown--the supervisors and the election-integrity crowd teaming up to take on Jan herself. Hell, if the supervisors had been smart, they would have played her as the bad guy from the start.
Last week, the supes also created an elections commission. Each of the supervisors will appoint a representative, as will Huckelberry. The commission will include the chairs of each of the political parties, as well as Moffatt, who will serve as an ex-officio, nonvoting member.
CONSTITUTIONAL CRISISBefore Republican Senate candidates Al Melvin and Pete Hershberger took center stage at last week's Legislative District 26 Clean Elections debate (check out the story in this issue for more on that fun-filled event), the three Republicans running in the GOP House primary did a warm-up act.
We're not sure how many Republicans they reached, since a big chunk of the audience appeared to be liberal Democrats and other supporters of the sponsor, the Children's Action Alliance.
But we digress. The candidates were asked if they supported amending the state Constitution to ban gay marriage, which is already illegal under state law.
Vic Williams said he would "do anything to protect" the institution of marriage as being between one man and one woman, but "I don't necessarily think it needs to be in our state Constitution," while Trent Humphries said he thought it was important to get the ban into the Arizona Constitution so judges couldn't throw out the state law.
"You can't take something that's been around for thousands of years and change it and have it have the same weight as the previous definition," Humphries said.
The third candidate in the race, Marilyn Zerull, really blew the question. She said she supported the constitutional amendment, but then bemoaned the fact that lawmakers couldn't make the decision themselves and instead referred the question to voters. "It's a shame that the Legislature wasn't able to come to a decision on this, so it's going to be brought to the voters in the fall," Zerull said. Marilyn, here's a little civics lesson for you: Lawmakers already limited marriage between one man and one woman in state law, but they can't amend the Constitution without voter approval. That's the sort of thing you should probably know before you try to represent people at the Capitol.
CLASH OF THE TITANSWant to catch a little political action of your own? How can you pass up political gadfly John Kromko debating against incumbent Reps. Phil Lopes and Olivia Cajero Bedford? Is this where Kromko finally makes his political comeback? Find out at the Legislative District 27 Clean Elections forum at 6 p.m., Thursday, July 10, at the Pima Community College District Office, 4905 E. Broadway Blvd.
Next week's Clean Elections debate features the Democratic candidates in the seven-way super-slam in the Legislative District 29: Rep. Tom Prezelski, Matt Heinz, Daniel Patterson, Ephraim Cruz, Patricia Puig, Gil Guerra and Alex Bustamante. It's at 6 p.m., Thursday, July 17, at the PCC District Office.
For more upcoming political events, visit our new political calendar at ScrambleWatch.com. If you've got something going down, drop us a line so we can add it to our datebook.