Wire Service

Back by popular demand--the top 6 fixes of the year!

Somewhere, every day, the fix is in. -- Former Tucson City Magistrate Reuben Moses Emanuel

Ah, the fix. That wonderful example of the art of government graft at its finest.

When we speak of the fix, we need to clearly define it. A real fix has several attributes. It is never illegal; it is a manipulation of the system that goes right up to the legal line but never crosses it. It also has the look, feel and trappings of legitimacy. And a really good fix gets little or no attention and slides right by the media types who tend to be too gullible to know what to look for anyway, usually covering government by press release or asking whatever pol or bureaucrat they've buddied up to. While the private sector does things that resemble the fix, the real ones involve government.

The great Tammany Hall leader George Washington Plunkitt defined the difference between honest graft and dishonest graft when he compared municipal government to an apple orchard. Why, he asked, did anybody want the apples from the tree marked "penal code" when there were all those other trees available? The fix is honest graft.

Generic examples of honest graft abound. The open and competitive civil service job that has a special supplemental condition that the preferred applicant must have held a real estate license in the state of Kentucky from 1987 to 1992. The specifications for a new bulldozer that give the wheel base, engine stroke and other particulars sufficient for any knowing reader to grasp they really spell out "Caterpillar." Or one local urban legend from the '70s that a certain county supe actually had asked that a new car bid include the requirement that the vehicle must have the letters O-L-D-S-M-O-B-I-L-E on the deck lid. You get the idea.

In many parts of America, the fix is a way of life, as former Chicago residents are well aware. If you think our local pols roll over for developers, try the Chicago practice of giving favored contractors long-term, interest-free loans to build their projects. What makes Tucson and Pima County different is the pretense we have around here that the game of government is on the level. The following illustrate that it isn't.

THE WHOLE TOWN OF Oro Valley is fixed. The OV government has been a wholly owned subsidiary of the town's largest developer and land owner, Vistoso Partners, for years. In this case The Fix is the product of a certain mindset described by Theodore Roosevelt many years ago.

When the young Roosevelt served in the New York Assembly, a judicial ruling came down favoring the somewhat notorious entrepreneur Jay Gould. The general consensus was that the decision stank of corruption and Roosevelt went after the judge. In those days when many legislatures could impeach their judges, Roosevelt tried to knock him out of office but ended up with only a censure. One other thing was more prevalent in those days: shame. The judge committed suicide.

Many years later, Roosevelt opined that the judge hadn't really been bought off as he had assumed. He just believed that it was his duty to rule in favor of the rich and powerful. Which clearly broadens our understanding of the staff and Town Council in Oro Valley.

Here's one way you tell. Thousands of acres of vacant land in Oro Valley have been rezoned for high-density housing. Yet Vistoso Partners and others run cattle on those acres, ensuring they pay only token property taxes to Pima County and other jurisdictions like the Amphi School District, which has to serve all the kiddies from the homes caused by those rezonings. The Town Council of Oro Valley could ban cattle inside the town limits, thereby eliminating the tax exemption and giving tax relief to its own citizens who pay for Amphi schools. Ever discussed? Once--and quietly killed. The "staff," including the town lawyers, belched reasons why it wouldn't work. It has clearly never occurred to the OV Council that they might consider hiring a lawyer who could tell them how it would.

In the meantime, the area's depleting water table is used to take care of even more golf courses. The OV version of "let 'em eat cake" is "let 'em tee off." But they'll fix that someday and replace that groundwater just as soon as they raise enough tax money to subsidize it. Which is why we call the town Caddy Shack, home of the perpetual fix.

THE REV. JOEL C. Ireland, an Episcopal priest who couldn't come close to matching Rev. John Fowler at St. Michael's, also is a store-front lawyer who has helped family and friends while screwing taxpayers during his 13 long years on the TUSD Board.

He has landed jobs and promotions for his friends and political backers. Though he was slick enough to miss the public vote, Ireland helped his brother into an assistant principal's job at Catalina High School a few years after he ruthlessly tried to close the midtown school.

This year, he outdid himself.

While taxpayers, particularly businesses, suffered a huge property tax increase orchestrated by Ireland, and teachers and kids were squeezed in a supposed tight budget, Ireland's Cal-Berkeley-dropout son, Aaron Maxwell Ireland, slipped onto the TUSD payroll as an "exceptional education instructional specialist."

Daddy proudly proclaims that Aaron is "an outstanding mathematics scholar."

That's great. So was another Cal-Berkeley numbers guy named Ted Kuczynski.

Aaron Ireland raked in nearly $30,000 in pay and benefits for what was his second go-round at the TUSD pork plate.

This was one that did not require work.

Aaron Ireland is on the political pig farm run by Bob Mackay, the empire-building head of TUSD alternative ed. Daddy Ireland and Mackay are close pals who like to drink beer in the Marriott University Park bar after TUSD board meetings.

Aaron Ireland had no trouble in the TUSD personnel office either. Longtime TUSD political hack Paul Felix, a former teacher, is the Peter Principle deputy director of personnel and another longtime Friend of Joel. Felix is a man who races to carry Ireland's water and candidate petitions.

But that work, even when Ireland was assured re-election in 2000 because of the sad lack of candidates, paid off for Felix. An outstanding alumnus of the annual Fix column, Felix bagged a whopping, 16.3-percent raise this year to put his pay at $72,008. What's worse for taxpayers and teachers? It was retroactive.

But hey, nothing unusual. This is a district in which Board Mother Mary Belle McCorkle--a few months before Aaron Ireland started getting his--cast the necessary vote to promote her inexperienced daughter to principal of an elementary school.

LOCAL POLITICAL GENIUSES David Steele and Matt Smith were in line to get a lucrative contract to promote the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. That might have seemed too brazen. And Bronson inexplicably was dissing these geniuses, who helped her re-election campaign last year. So George Goebel, the aide to Republican Supervisor Ann Day, filled the vacuum. Goebel is a former aide to U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe, a Tucson Republican, and he just happened to remember the New Jersey-based firm, Jamestown Associates, that worked the Kolbe campaign in 2000.

Goebel popped his cherry in county contracting by telling County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry about Jamestown (gotta stay on Kolbe's good side) and the boys from Jersey collected $35,000 for television and radio spots neither seen nor heard.

The scent of fix grew when the greens who are fighting for the conservation plan uttered no complaint.

WELL CHRONICLED EVEN by the dailies, the county redistricting was a sham and a fix. It started with a committee that was supposed to do the work, balancing far-out-of-whack population among the five supervisorial districts. A new state law accelerating the process was junked. Then the committee was told to take a breather. When it met November 9, Bronson's committee woman slammed down the worst gerrymander since the peculiar legislative District 14 was splattered on a map after the 1990 census. After some tinkering on December 4, the board's Democratic majority adopted it despite strong public criticism.

There is nothing wrong with a Democrat-controlled board and redistricting panel keeping three districts Democratic. The committee was the charade. The fix was revealed when no technical work and debate was done in public, including when the skillful Dan Eckstrom, a Democratic supervisor since 1988, made his amendments.