December 21 - December 27, 1995

The Skinny

THE $4 MILLION SCREW-UP: That lawsuit by Pima County bureaucrats illegally canned in early 1993 by the inept GOP majority on the Board of Supervisors has been settled--for $3 million. That's the largest settlement or award ever made in the State of Arizona on a case involving wrongful termination of any public employee. And, as we predicted, the cost of that case exceeded the total amount of money budgeted by Pima County for pay raises for all 6,000 of its other employees.

And it was more than $3 million. One employee had already received $250,000, and the county's outside attorney has already billed at least that, with more coming. Add to that the costs of other legal consultants hired to work on the case and the time and expense put in by county staff, and the number is more like $4 million.

Biggest winner was defrocked Deputy County Manager Bruce Postil, who hit a million bucks all by himself. Bruce, with enemies like Ed Moore, you don't need any friends.

pix And Special Ed has told a whole bunch of people that a couple of local writers, one from the Star and one from The Weekly, should be investigated--because he's sure they cut a deal with Postil for a piece of the action and made sure the case got a high profile.

Hey, pickle brain, next time you talk to those lawyers you get the rest of us to pay for, have them look up the definition of "slander" in one of those fancy law books.

YOU DON'T HAVE TO SHOUT: In response to our recent call for suggestions to improve local TV news, anchor stud Bud "Why-Are-You-Staring-At-My-Hair?" Foster writes:

In the past few weeks, we here at Channel 13 have done stories on an infant getting a heart transplant, the government shutting down and with it the Grand Canyon, Washington budget battles, growth vs. no growth in Green Valley, witches and warlocks, the troubles of Newt Gingrich, the troubles of Governor Fife Symington, AIDS in children, AIDS in women, the best ways and times to Christmas shop, kids who skip school, Arizona troops going to Bosnia, the Bosnian peace agreement, cuts in welfare, corporate cutbacks in people vs. profits, an AIDS victim getting baboon marrow, impact fees, executions, inflation, the Ebola virus, breakthroughs in diabetes research, Ajo school funding problems, problems in juvenile justice, Proposition 200, city elections, the Galileo project, Wal-Mart vs. a 12-year-old Mexican rape victim, a poor child who'll get new ears for Christmas, a new ice rink in Tucson, budget cuts' impact on Social Security, food poisoning, the Peacebuilder program, teenage pregnancy, tunnel kids, TUSD labor problems, Amphi labor successes, Free Willie, the Amity drug treatment program bankruptcy, drug addiction, water quality, taxes, old age, the baby boomers, asthma sufferers, heart disease, smoking, the speed limit, the 13 days of Christmas, the freeway widening, a boy on crutches kicked off the soccer team, a boy getting his lost wheelchair back, TV violence, X-rated cyberspace, University of Arizona basketball, illegal immigration, NAFTA, domestic violence, etc., etc., etc. The list goes on and on.

If none of these stories is relevant to your life, you've either been sleeping for the past six months...or dead.

Maybe it's not that local news is irrelevant to your life, maybe you've just been watching the wrong channel.

Well, thanks, Bud, for that impressive spew. And, might we add, if you guys had bothered to spend more than the standard minute-thirty on those stories, many of which were ripped directly from the paper or other sources, a couple of them might have been interesting or even relevant. But we know how it is: Your consultant says why bother--the viewers are idiots and nobody who watches TV news can concentrate long enough to comprehend an original idea.

Keep up the fine work, etc., etc., etc. Our admiration goes on and on.

FIRE SALE: It appears the local firefighters' union is the latest group to join the annexation fumble-along in the City of Tucson's never-ending quest for tax revenues.

And why not? When you're a firefighter, paid by city taxpayers, it's not much of a stretch to agree with city officials hellbent on pursuing a mountain-to-mountain annexation policy.

So, when Tucson firefighters inked their 1994 contract with the city, they committed their members to recognizing "that annexation is a survival issue for the future of the city," thus allowing city bureaucrats to offer fire department jobs as hush money.

Several weeks ago the Skinny's spies spotted representatives of the firefighters' local with several top city officials who were attempting to convince rural district firefighters to support--or at least condone--city annexation efforts into their districts. In exchange for the rural firefighters' "silence," the city agreed to integrate them into positions within the city fire department.

Leading this giveaway was City Manager Mike "The Spike" Brown and Fire Chief Fred Shipman.

When the city annexes into a rural fire district, according to Jeff Piechura, chief of the Northwest Fire District, the first parcels of property to be snatched are the "tax cows," leaving an eroded property tax base and budget shortfalls in its wake. For the people remaining in the shrunken fire district, quality fire suppression and emergency medical service deteriorates.

To prevent this from happening, rural fire district have become ardent foes of city annexation.

Under Arizona law, fire districts, like cities, also can legally alter their boundaries through annexation. And once the fire district begins an annexation, it has one year to complete the process.

Using this process, several fire district officials, such as Ted Poelstra of the southside Palo Verde Fire District, have become anti-annexation warriors. Poelstra has annexed a single parcel of property with one resident as a ploy to block the city. Under current state law, a single household annexation has the same status as a 100-household annexation. And it's not surprising that since the city began its aggressive annexation policy, the number of fire district annexations has gone up several thousand percent.

Which brings us back to the city's offer to hire displaced rural fire district staffers if their employment is terminated due to annexation. The fire districts have, in effect, made a counter offer to the city. Several districts are asking the city to reimburse lost property tax revenue when the tax base is lost to annexation.

But the city bureaucrats are in a bind. If they refuse to negotiate a reasonable settlement, soon the districts are sure to seek legislative relief from the state. On the other hand, should city staff sit down to seriously negotiate a property tax reimbursement, they're sure to draw the wrath of certain members of the city council.

Tucson City Councilman Steve Leal stops short of calling the reimbursement "a bribe," a term several rural fire officials have used to describe the city's offer to employ displaced firefighters. Leal says the rural firefighters are being asked to be paid "to do nothing. It's outrageous."

The Arizona League of Cities and Towns is attempting to mediate a settlement, says Piechura. "The city and the league do not want this thing to go to the state level. Neither do we. But we want a equitable settlement."

An equitable settlement may not be in the offing. The city currently has a cash-flow problem and its projected revenues are already showing an $8 to $12 million shortfall. Tax-rich annexations will go a long way in helping make up the difference.

The contract language in the firefighters' contract may already have come to pass: "Annexation is a survival issue...for the city."

BEST WATER WISHES: One of the best little local newsletters around is CAP Alternatives, put out by George Barr, retired hydrologist and active Tucson Water critic. He's chairman of the board of the CAP Alternatives Committee, a little group dedicated to full-time citizenship and voluntary guidance of our befuddled city-owned water company.

In the December issue, Barr tells us the time has come to end the long-standing political tradition of having the Tucson Water director report to the city manager. Barr's suggestions are breifly outlined below:

1. Begin a search for a professional water utility manager with a record of successful operation of a water system of similar complexity to that of Tucson's.

2. Appoint an interim manager to arrange for the first-ever audit of Tucson Water.

3. Direct the interim manager to arange for the first (ever) audit of Tucson Water.

4. Consider adding to the initial seven-person Water Utility Board of Directors three or four directors who'll represent the 40 percent of Tucson's water customers living outside the city limits.

5. Direct the interim manager to take measures to assure Tucson has a ready, dependable, alternative water supply capable of meeting any foreseeable emergencies.

6. Direct the interim manager to recommend distribution system modifications which will allow Tucson to immediately begin using a substantial part of its CAP allocation for groundwater recharge.

Note to the Tucson City Council: The guy has a point. Don't be proud--act now while you still have a water company.

THE COST OF BASEBALL: We've previously discussed the $25 million sum being bandied about as a subsidy for that proposed new baseball stadium. Now try the $15 million more needed to build the freeway ramps to get to the field. So where's that money supposed to come from? Out of state highway funds already committed to local projects?

Good thing all our local roads are adequate and we don't have any traffic problems, huh?

NOT SO OLD TUCSON: The recently renovated Old Tucson site was billed for years as "historic Old Tucson." That's the slogan they used to grind big bucks out of the turistas, and they were correct--it was historic and eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Sites. But now, due to the incompetence of those running Pima County, as well as lease holders Don Diamond and Don Pitt, half the place has burned down.

Now they're in the reconstruction stage, and somebody finally noticed that when you rebuild a genuine, publicly owned historic site, you have to follow a few rules and regs. Gee, did the lease holders send their plans to the review folks over at the Pima-Tucson Historical Commission as required of all mere mortals?

Seems that somebody did take notice, and we're told they've written to get a looksee at the plans. We suspect the Diamond bunch could care less how genuine any of it is as long as they max the profits.

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December 21 - December 27, 1995

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