Skinny BIDNESS AS USUAL: The Tucson Downtown Alliance's Business Improvement District made headlines again this week, this time for maneuvers to finagle tax dollars for Rio Nuevo South, the long-vacant 62-acre lot on Congress Street west of Interstate 10.

There are three development proposals on the table for the city-owned Rio Nuevo South, with costs ranging from $35 million to $419 million. All three developments hoped to use tax-increment financing to cover development costs.

Tax-increment financing, or TIF, is a relatively new legal twist, generally used for stadium construction, which allows a portion of sales tax dollars generated in a development to help pay off bonds used to finance projects. Earlier this year, state lawmakers moved to kill the TIF option, complaining that the projects essentially diverted sales taxes to private developers.

That sent Tucson representatives scurrying to the Capitol to rescue a TIF option for Rio Nuevo South. In last Sunday's Star, reporters Joe Burchell and Keith Bagwell revealed that among the lobbyists pushing the plan were attorney Thomas Laursen, who chairs downtown's controversial Business Improvement District, and his underling, BID director Carol Carpenter.

As it turns out, however, Laursen is also the attorney for Daystar, a California developer who is proposing the $400-million-plus option--which put Laursen in the position of advocating both on behalf of the downtown BID, which is supported by hundreds of thousands of public tax dollars, and his private client.

While lawmakers say Laursen was careful to say when he was representing the BID and when he was representing Daystar, the situation still stinks, especially considering that he never even told lawmakers two other proposals were on the table--proposals that probably wouldn't be eligible for TIF financing under the plan that finally was approved last week.

Sure, it's disturbing that lawmakers don't bother to read the papers and learn what's going on in the communities they represent. But it's even more disturbing to see the BID once again using public dollars to push private interests.

Rio Nuevo South is in the ward of Councilman José Ibarra, who is eager to see a development go forward on the vacant property. But he says the three proposals "should have had fair and equal access and a fair and equal chance. How do we fix the problem and still move ahead with developing Rio Nuevo South?"

Ibarra gave props to fellow Councilman Fred Ronstadt, a Republican who was also lobbying lawmakers at the Capitol. But he blasted Laursen and Carpenter and says he plans to ask for a review of the BID in the near future.

"I'm really worried about this," Ibarra says. "This could be a tremendous project not only for the city but also for the south and westside. Too many political games are being played. The process has been more than tainted--it's been corrupted."

TUSD BURNS, GARCIA FIDDLES: Superintendent George Garcia is ignoring mushrooming problems in all corners of the sprawling, mismanaged Tucson Unified School District, preferring instead to ride herd on one of his bosses, School Board member Rosalie Lopez. Garcia is complaining that Lopez is asking too many questions and, heaven forbid, not being what he expects Board members to be--distant onlookers. In a condescending memo that misrepresented the facts, Garcia essentially told Lopez last week to have no contact with his minions. But those employees, sources tell us, say they did not complain about Lopez and that she didn't order or ask them to do anything.

Meanwhile, Garcia ignores a growing grade and graduation-requirement scandal brewing at the district's ritzy Sabino High School. It appears certain students are being funneled through Sabino with nowhere near the graduation requirements. Grades have been altered in some cases. Failing students are hidden in "study" classes for which they are improperly given credit. And Principal Susan Preimesberger and Garcia's PR machine are trying desperately to put some spin on the fact that Sabino can't shake its deficiencies and subsequent warnings issued by the North Central Association.

There also needs to be further review of why Sabino administration spent thousands of dollars of student council money on patio furniture that the student council specifically--and overwhelmingly--voted against.

Garcia still needs to fill principal offices at Palo Verde and Catalina, where parents finally prevailed and ousted enabler Linda Schloss.

Garcia is using his pet policy, a would-be anti-meddling rule No. 9100, to try to block Lopez from doing what she was elected to do. Odd how he never went after the Board's worst meddler, Gloria Copeland, whom Lopez ousted in the 1998 election.

KINO KICKBACK: A state investigation into a payroll kickback scam at Pima County's Kino Community Hospital should reveal that the scheme is wider than reported in the dailies last week. More than two people are the focus of an investigation into kickbacks generated by falsified overtime and falsified work. The probe, being conducted by the state Department of Public Safety because of conflicts in the County Attorney's Office, includes some Kino docs and jail medical services. Dr. Deputy Richard Carmona, the county health czar, can't make a happy face out of this one. It's yet another black eye for Kino, which has run up another $14 million debt in the last year. And if Kino employees are falsifying time cards, what else are they falsifying?

WITHOUT AN AUDIENCE, AND WITHOUT A CLUE: In the never-ending fight for who does the worst job of presenting local news, KGUN-TV, Channel 9, just hit a new low. Apparently unable to recognize what is cogent and relevant, and possessing very little institutional memory about the community they supposedly serve, the children in Nine's news department have drafted a seven-part "mission statement" called the "Viewers Bill of Rights." These "rights" are defined as: more positive stories; more neighborhood crime stories; respecting a victim's right to privacy; ethical news gathering; more investigative reporting; solution-oriented journalism for individual and community problems. Oh, and they also promise a response to public input and feedback.

To implement this feel-good agenda, they'll add to the KGUN news staff a "viewer representative." We suggest auto dealer Jim Click.

And if you're wondering where all this stuff comes from, according to a recent Tucson Citizen story, KGUN News Director Forrest Carr has been asked to participate in a panel discussion by the Pew Center for Civic Journalism. We're not saying KGUN's new policies were dictated by Pew, but Pew and other mostly conservative foundations have been promoting this approach to news for about a decade now.

Hey, Forrest, are you aware of who you're playing with there? The Pew Trusts, in the words of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, "are the legacy of the ultraconservative patriarch of the Sun Oil fortune, whose heirs and assigns are now using oil wealth to promote an ambitious agenda of privitization and corporate control of public resources, all under the guise of citizen participation initiatives."

In pursuit of this agenda, Pew and its ilk have given away millions, in the words of the Guardian, "to pay for certain types of reporting on certain issues." In one particularly egregious example, Pew paid the San Francisco Chronicle and several of the Bay Area's TV stations an undisclosed sum to do a massive, coordinated report on San Francisco's worsening traffic problems. Never once did the resulting stories mention the history of the problem, which included a consortium of oil and auto-related companies who, using dummy corporations, bought up and killed most of San Francisco's mass transit in the early days of the auto.

Politicians pander regularly and get away with it because lazy, incompetent journalists let them. Now, in our opinion, some local journalists are themselves instituting a new system for pandering, which will allow them to claim that whatever they cover is "asked for" and what they avoid is not--a perfect excuse to take a dive when it comes to doing hard stories.

Edward R. Murrow didn't have a focus group tell him to report on Joe McCarthy. Neither did any other real reporters and writers, all the way back to John Peter Zenger. What KGUN is doing is a disgusting parody of genuine news gathering, and we're betting their Nielsen news numbers sink even lower.

DON'T FENCE US OUT: Some northwest-area residents were ticked off recently when they discovered the Pima County Parks Department wants to run a fence around Tortolita Mountain Park. Fencing several thousand acres, much of it rugged hill country, would cost well over a million bucks. The county's parks bureaucracy wants to control who's in and out of all county park land by setting up limited access points. This means some residents who live relatively near the Tortolita park will have to drive--and maybe tow their horse--for miles before they'll be allowed into where they've been going for years.

Parks bureaucrats confirmed this idiotic policy at a Town Hall meeting conducted by Supervisor Sharon Bronson, who had never heard of the idea herself.

Now you may have some idea about how the county got this far into its current financial hole. TW

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