The Skinny

ANYBODY NEED A TRANSFER SLIP? Supposedly, recently departed SunTran manager Jerry Hall made the decision to leave--Tucson's short-lived transit strike had nothing to do with it. At least that's the way The Arizona Daily Star is reporting it. Yeah, right.

So SunTran, the city-owned bus system run by mega-corp. Ryder/ATE, has hired yet another general manager, W. Lee Burner II--another in a long succession of general managers who are replaced whenever necessary to maintain the illusion that all problems are caused by the "previous" manager. Never mind that the same problems continue to exist--and have for as long as Ryder/ATE's been in charge. Looks like the company's disjointed middle management "team" will continue to be the bane of Tucson mass transit.

The "new kid" on the block, our spies tell us, was in fact the last resort--all the other candidates bugged out when confronted with the pile into which they were being asked to step. Our spies also tell us the new kid has never run a property of more than 40 buses. Yeah, this makes good management sense. SunTran currently has 203 buses, as well as numerous support vehicles.

In light of the recent strike, new management and the over-all shabbiness of Tucson's bus fleet, one would think Ryder/ATE would, at the very least, bring in a team of industry experts to work toward some solutions to its chronic problems, which, incidentally, also include management by intimidation, harassment, discrimination and coercion.

Do you suppose our City Manager should be looking into this mess, too?

We doubt the current audit of SunTran the city has ordered will even begin to scratch the surface of what happened to all the monies budgeted to the bus company over the past 17 years. When it comes to operations, maintenance, inventory, administrative, payroll, as well as federal grant monies for capital improvements, new equipment purchases and upgrades, we'd really like to know where all this taxpayer cash has actually gone. Certainly not into fleet refurbishing--we're told one whole bus received a cosmetic overhaul recently. Wow.

We're also told that before Bruce Behncke left as SunTran general manager a few years ago, SunTran returned roughly $700,000 to the city's general fund. Excuse us, but weren't those monies allocated in the SunTran budget for wages and other items? Guess it makes better corporate sense for Ryder/ATE to suck up to its municipal overlords in the city's transportation department than to actually serve the public with decent bus service.

And don't worry, you can always cover crappy service with a snappy marketing campaign. That's why, for a mere $360,000-plus annually, Ryder/ATE provides SunTran with a general manager, an assistant general manager and a director of marketing. To give you an idea of where the priorities lie, we need only point out that the current assistant general manager just happens to be a former SunTran marketing director, who, according to our sources, has little managerial or budget experience.

Skinny And do you remember seeing all those SunTran commercials during the Superbowl a few years back? Those couldn't have been our tax dollars going to pay for the most expensive airtime around, could it? Who, exactly, is SunTran competing with that would make TV advertising so necessary?

If Ryder/ATE and the city really want to sell John Q. Public on the concept of getting out of his car and onto the bus daily, why not simply provide well-maintained buses? We believe a clean bus with a fully operational climate-control system, arriving on time, without the squealing brakes, without the accompanying cloud of black smoke, and with a courteous, helpful professional operator, would sell more tickets than a constant barrage of poorly done, surreal TV commercials. But for some strange reason, good service appears to be at the bottom of Ryder/ATE's priority list, as the years of corporate indifference to riders and employees clearly indicate.

In the absence of the contractually required performance audits, and in light of the apparent collusion between the city transportation department and Ryder/ATE in the renewal of the SunTran management contract earlier this year, the City Council should declare the current management contract null and void.

It's time to change bus companies.

VALUE JUDGMENTS: While many critics consider the State Land Department to be nothing more than a front for the Growth Lobby, Land Department officials maintain their legal mandate is to sell and lease taxpayer-owned land for the "highest and best use."

That language allows developers like Cleveland's Forest City to have a "planning permit" for 920 acres of pristine state-owned Sonoran desert in the embattled new Town of Tortolita. The Land Department bozos claim their mandate for "highest and best use" in this instance means high-density housing, because the state can sell its land at a higher price.

Last week, to help those out-of-state developers who want to make millions blading and grading the desert for strips malls and tract developments, state Attorney General Grant Woods, through assistant attorney general Mary Grier, has filed a suit that, if successful, would disincorporate Tortolita.

But here's the real puzzler: If the Land Department thinks making lots of money is "highest and best" use, why did it just reject grazing bids from environmental groups that were two to five times higher than what Arizona ranchers would pay for the same land?

The Land Department reports to GOP Governor Jane Hull, who, along with Woods and State Treasurer Tony West, vote on proposed sales the Land Department recommends. So, Jane, since "highest" is no longer necessarily defined as "best," judging by the rejection of the grazing lease bids, we'd like to point out that allowing Forest City go ahead with 3,700 tract homes on 920 acres and disincorporating a town to do it--not to mention creating massive strains on an already stressed school system in the area--might not fit the "best" definition either.

Unfortunately, Hull's principal envoy in Southern Arizona is Steve Jewett, on leave as publisher of Inside Tucson Business, a government-subsidized weekly rag that mindlessly trumpets the Growth Lobby's position that the actual people in Tortolita should have no say in land-use policies in their community.

The Tortolita issue will end Hull's honeymoon with many real environmentalists, as well as the residents of the new town and their thousands of supporters, many of whom are Republicans. These are her dogs and she could call them off if she so desired. But we suspect the only spin she's been given is the warped view of her staff, principally Jewett.

COUNCIL CLUSTER: A whopping 33 people have applied for a post on the brand-spankin'-new Village of Casas Adobes Town Council, which is (as of press time) an unpaid position. The Pima County Board of Supervisors will pick seven out of the bunch on November 18, following a series of forums sponsored by Citizens for Democracy and Open Local Government.

We hope the candidates participate in the forums, because the new council's real constituency, the 50,000-plus folks who live in Casas Adobes, didn't exactly give the tiny and divided incorporation committee a mandate with a 51 percent vote. In fact, the decision was carried in the early voting--the incorporation question went down with people who voted on election day.

There are some problems facing the supes in making these choices. Geography and gender are skewed, as most of the applicants (26) are men and the vast majority live north of Ina Road.

The pro-incorporation committee folks argue that nobody who opposed incorporation should be appointed to the council--once more demonstrating their exclusivity. Three of the committee members have applied for council posts, negating their earlier commitments not to. But then, they were never very good at keeping commitments.

Some of the front-runners fortunately are not tainted by committee membership, nor do they look like Ed Moore clones. For now, they are:

Don Burtchin, chair of the Pima County Parks Commission and an officer in the local GOP from District 12, in which most of the town lies. Burtchin is well known to the supes and would be a stabilizing influence.

Asa Bushnell, former Tucson Citizen columnist and currently public information officer for the Pima County Sheriff's Department. Bushnell has deep GOP credentials and has the support of Supervisor Mike Boyd, who has a big portion of the town in his district.

• Captain Marty Cramer of the Pima County Sheriff's Office. Cramer is currently chair of the Metro Water Board and, like Burtchin, well known and liked among the supes.

Joe Murray, an opponent of incorporation not only of Casas Adobes but of his friends in the Northwest Neighborhood Coalition who formed Tortolita, Pima County's other new town. Murray is strongly supported by Board Chairman Raul Grijalva.

Mary Schuh, who also opposed incorporation and is one of the great gadflies of local government, particularly around budget time. Not only is she competent, Schuh also is a woman from the south part of town.

We've been informed that legendary land speculator Don Diamond has sent in a hit list of candidates he doesn't want to see on the new council, which includes not only Murray and Schuh, but Pete Tescione and Peter Vokac. Tescione, along with Ted Schlinkert, tried to draw attention to what the closed-circuit committee members were doing, while Vokac bailed out on the committee to become an advocate of a position no one clearly understood, serving a constituency basically of himself. Diamond also nixed Schlinkert, apparently unaware that he didn't apply, partially because he doesn't live in the town.

Considering Diamond's leverage with most of the supes, we expect his hit list to be ignored. He may have even given Vokac's quixotic candidacy artificial respiration. And there may be some sleepers in the pile.

There will be an election next year, with a primary in March and a general in May. This debut, appointed council should move slowly and cautiously, rejecting many of the grandiose plans and deals the incorporation committee made. Big decisions should be made by candidates the people elect.

If you live in Casas Adobes and want to meet your potential civic leaders, you can get a look at them at two forums, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, November 13, and Monday, November 17, at La Cima Middle School, 5600 N. La Cañada Drive. TW

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