High-School Confidential

The Yellow-Ribbon Gang Takes Aim At Nancy Young Wright.

By Jim Nintzel

A COUPLE MONTHS back, Nancy Young Wright had to chase away a stranger who was lurking outside of her home.

Currents Wright, a well-known environmental activist who serves on the Amphitheater School Board, says a neighbor tipped her off to a van which had been parked for several hours at the end of her cul-de-sac--a van which had also been parked there for several hours a few days earlier. When she came out to find out who the driver was, he burned rubber on his way out of the neighborhood--but not before Wright's neighbor was able to get a license-plate number.

A subsequent investigation by Oro Valley police determined the man was a licensed private investigator.

Since then, Wright no longer thinks it's a good idea to let her kids walk to the bus stop by themselves.

It could well be that the PI was doing surveillance work on someone else in the neighborhood. But, by Wright's account, he sure split in a hurry when he realized she had made him.

Investigators are bound by strict rules. They aren't allowed to divulge targets or clients, so we'll probably never know who hired the private dick working on Wright's street.

And there are plenty of folks who don't like Wright's no-compromise, no-corruption style. They range from northwestern Pima County developers to some members of the Oro Valley Town Council who've dismissed Wright as an "environmental terrorist."

The latest bunch to take aim at Wright is Citizens Committed to Kids' Education. Led by Esther Underwood, the group has pushed the Amphi School District to start building a new high school on land which federal wildlife officials consider prime habitat for the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl. After delaying construction for months, the school district is scheduled to face environmental groups in court later this month to determine whether construction of the school would harm the owl.

Wright, who has been the lone voice on the board pushing for alternatives to the school site in the event the courts rule against the district, has drawn the ire of Underwood's group. In a recent guest column in the Tucson Citizen, Underwood demanded Wright's resignation, contending that because Wright has fought against things like development in Honey Bee Canyon, she shouldn't be permitted to attend Amphi's executive session meetings, during which the board discusses its legal strategy against the environmental groups.

Underwood is a real estate agent in the rapidly subdividing northwest. Her husband Richard Underwood owns AAA Landscaping, which, according to The Arizona Daily Star, raked in more than $6 million in revenues last year. Richard Underwood is no stranger to politics; he helped elect several members of the current Oro Valley Town Council (Yes, the same Oro Valley Town Council that's become sleazy enough to actually draw sharp barbs in past weeks from both dailies--written with the scorn usually reserved for those foolish souls who actually have the temerity to decide they'd rather form their own town than be sucked into any of the current disgraceful jurisdictions.)

In March, as workers began ripping trees from the potential pygmy owl habitat, Esther Underwood and her posse turned up on the property for an impromptu celebration, which erupted into a screaming match with Wright. (The site work was halted the next day, when a federal judge issued an injunction against the district.)

Last week, Esther Underwood took another swing at Wright. She mailed a petition with several hundred signatures in to the district, imploring the board to investigate Wright's so-called "conflict of interest."

When Wright's supporters heard about the petition, they turned out to back her at last week's school board meeting.

"I disagree with what the charges," says Paula Abbott, a parent who supports Wright. "They're trying to insinuate that she has a conflict of interest. I don't think that they have anything to support their conclusion and I think it will go nowhere. I truly feel that what they did was a publicity stunt.

Abbott says Wright is the only person on the board who has persistently attempted to get the board to look at other options for the school site.

"How much are you willing to waste in time and money to fight it?" she asks. "And what if you lose? That's something they don't get. If they lose, they don't have another site. It's just so stupid."

Abbott says she was "ticked off" that the television reporters who covered the story played it as a duel between mothers and environmentalists.

Diana Boros, another mother who supports Wright, was amused by that angle.

"I hate even to hike, so it's kind of funny to me," Boros laughs. "I'm an environmentalist around my yard, but that's about it."

Boros is more concerned about the legal costs of the fight to build the new high school than she is about saving the planet.

"They have no idea or they were unwilling to divulge how much money they were going to put into it," Boros says. "I'm also concerned about the amount of time. I have a freshman next year at CDO, so I don't want the schools to be crowded by any means."

But she thinks Amphi should be pursuing more options.

"I've asked Nancy to look at second options in case we went into court, and now here we are," says Boros, who was dismayed by the board majority at last week's meeting.

"I was very sad that none of the other board members spoke up for the right to defend themselves or ask any questions they feel they need to," she says. "I felt that was a very cowardly way to handle it."

Like Underwood, Boros has collected a few signatures of her own. Last fall, she passed around a petition to ask the board to begin having a call-to-the-audience segment in its meetings, allowing constituents to directly address the board.

Wright has repeatedly tried to put the issue on the agenda, but Board President Mike Bernal--who has repeatedly told Boros he supports the call-to-the-audience proposal--refuses to allow the board to even discuss the plan.

Boros is impressed with the way Underwood's petitions managed to make it to the board members.

"I feel very stupid, actually, because Mike Bernal asked me to wait until he got it on the agenda on a communication forum, and then I could go ahead and send my petition in," Boros says. "I think I'm just going to go ahead and send them in now and inform them that I have the petitions and I want it to be put on the agenda."

Asked if she thinks Amphi has a two-track policy--one for its allies, another for its critics--Boros responds with a question of her own: "It appears that way, doesn't it?"

John Holden, another frequent critic of the board majority, dismisses Underwood's conflict-of-interest charges as hogwash.

Holden, who plans to run for the board later this year, thinks Underwood's group miscalculated in its attack against Wright.

"This case has turned bitterly nasty and personal, and with that they've lost their focus that the idea is to get a school built and get kids into it, regardless of where its supposed to be built," he says. "They've gone onto this vendetta and it's just a shame." TW

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