Skinny STILL TESTING THE WATERS: So Tucson Mayor George Miller and Councilwoman Shirley Scott voted in favor of that silly attempt to put a "citizens" board in charge of Tucson Water. Thank goodness the rest of the Council voted it down. Miller said he thought the folks who worked on the idea deserved a shot, or some such B.S.

You know what? Just such a committee was part of Proposition 201, the developer-sponsored attempt to grab control of community water policy and make us drink that awful CAP water again. A majority of Tucson voters told the Growth Lobby where they could shove that ill-considered initiative, in no uncertain terms. Despite their high-falutin' statements about how the voters must be respected when it comes to water policy, Miller and Scott just revealed what they really think of the voters. So now we know who signs their checks.

We'd like to point out that this idea is nothing new--it was floated a couple years back by Roy Drachman and Jack Jewitt, and wisely rejected by the Council. And we'd like to remind voters that both Miller and Scott, when running for office in 1995, swore they'd never turn over control of Tucson Water to such a board. Guess we know what their word is worth.

Of course, The Arizona Daily Star editorially denounced the Council for not going along with the citizens board idea. The Star chose to make vague farting noises about how such a board would remove politics from water policy. Guess what? Politics, despite all its flaws, is still the best way for government to do business--assuming, of course, we're living in a democracy and not some secret fascist government controlled by the moneyed class. But then the Star is increasingly full of the vague, self-serving crapola that befits a product of the "professional elite." In an earlier time, it would have been the house organ of a corrupt, self-serving palace guard.

The Tucson City Council made precisely the right move in maintaining control of Tucson Water. Given the screwed up nature of that agency, and the ever-present potential for disaster, it was an act of sheer political guts. We salute those pols who voted to do their jobs properly, even as we pledge to continue to hold their feet to the fire, er, water.

AMPHI'S NEW GAMBLE: Hoping to find a way out of its pygmy owl predicament, the Amphi School Board voted 4 to 1 to buy more land next to that controversial new high-school site, hoping the additional acreage will allow them to skirt the federal permits they needed from the Army Corps of Engineers to tinker with the giant wash running through the property.

Amphi officials estimate the cost of the additional 14 acres to be about $25,000 an acre, close to what the district paid for the current site. We're left to wonder: If this is land in the pygmy owl habitat that folks like Amphi Board member Gary Woodard has said is worthless because of the owl's presence, why is Amphi getting ready to pay $25,000 an acre? Is this another chance for a property owner--in this case, northwest land baronness Mamie Kai--to unload some dirt on Amphi at top-dollar prices?

The additional land, along with costs associated with re-engineering the construction plans, will increase the cost of the school by about $675,000. All in all, it's probably Amphi's cheapest alternative to the flawed site--if it isn't a case of throwing good money after bad.

After all, even without changes in the arroyo, Amphi still faces an uphill battle in developing the site. Because the pygmy owl has been spotted within a quarter-mile of Amphi's property, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has expressed serious concerns about the loss of habitat caused by the construction of the school. The district's consultation with the federal agency is expected to conclude soon.

In addition, the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity has already declared it will sue if Amphi pushes ahead with development of the site. The suit, even if it's unsuccessful, could tie up development well into the future.

Which means that Amphi may own even more land it can't build on.

BIRD BRAINS: The Tucson Citizen has been running a promotional story for several days asking readers to help pick the biggest stories of the year. One suggestion is "The Spotted Owl," which has caused a lot of trouble in the Pacific Northwest, but very little in Pima County, which is home to the pygmy owl. Guess all owls look alike to the Citizen copy desk.

AND SPEAKING OF WILDLIFE HABITAT: The tragic coyote attacks on several children in an Oro Valley town park has finally brought some response from the OV police force, which ignored the first incident and never called the state Game and Fish Department, a move which might have prevented the later attacks.

The cops sent out a list of ways to prevent coyote attacks, most of which were common sense. But they included two curious suggestions: To keep coyotes away, they recommend getting rid of bird feeders because they attract birds and rodents, which in turn attract coyotes. And they think you should get rid of any foliage in which coyote "prey" might live. In other words, destroy any wildlife habitat you may have on your property!

What's next? Will Councilman Paul Parisi introduce a town ordinance outlawing bird feeders and requiring Oro Valley residents to replace all plants with rocks and gravel?

CHRISTMAS CHEER: Pima County Supervisor Dan Eckstrom has been accused of misusing his political clout on occasion. But for years, Danny has delivered for his constituents at Christmas by inviting other pols and heavy hitters to an annual party--not for himself, but for one of his favorite charitable outfits, the John Valenzuela Youth Center.

Eckstrom (and others, including South Tucson Mayor Shirley Villegas and the South Tucson City Council) asks his guests to bring canned goods, new toys and checks for the "Pio Decimo/Yaqui Christmas Fund" to the Christmas party, where they wrap presents for impoverished southside kids.

Merry Christmas, Danny. Would that the other pols would follow your example.

CHECK THIS OUT: A local patron of the Tucson library system was pursuing his requests for several recent books and discovered that our library staff has an unusual policy on new acquisitions. Seems they buy books for a new library and put them in storage until that library is constructed.

Staffers have already purchased and stored a bunch of books destined for the new east side library. Many of them are best-sellers that won't be topping the charts by the time that library opens sometime in 1999. One reason for the policy: The library system wants new branches to start out with "pristine" books.

The staff also stores books from libraries which are being remodeled, which can often take months.

We recognize this is the easiest method for library bureaucrats, who won't have to run around chasing and moving books when patrons can use new or remodeled libraries. But it's not a real good deal for those who want to read all those cool books in storage.

HAIL CESARE? Gov. Jane Dee Hull chose two Republican former colleagues, Phoenician Chris Herstam and Tucsonan Jack Jewett, to replace Democrats Eddie Basha and Art Chapa on the Arizona Board of Regents. With her picks, Hull maintained the current geographical distribution of the regents, with three appointees each from Tucson and Phoenix and two from the balance of the state.

Jewett, a central-casting establishment type, is probably a reasonable appointment, but few locals know that many local GOP leaders, including present Tucson regents Hank Amos III and John Munger, were actively supporting Democrat Joe Cesare for that post.

According to Arizona Republic political columnist Keven Willey, Cesare was in the running because he headed Democrats for Symington "and was key to Republican Fred Ronstadt's election this year to the Tucson City Council. Word has it that several Tucson Republicans promised to back Cesare for regent in exchange for his Ronstadt support."

Hold on a second--we didn't notice Cesare having any effect on Ronstadt's election. If Cesare did support him, believing it made a difference is like believing wet pavement causes rain.

We did notice Cesare took it in the chops in the same election with Prop 201, the water initiative he put on the ballot and supported with tens of thousands of dollars. Tucsonans overwhelmingly rejected Cesare's attempt to overturn the Water Consumer Protection Act.

So much for the theory that Cesare has anything going with Tucson voters.

Unfortunately, for too long--at least since former Gov. Bruce Babbitt held office--the Arizona Board of Regents has been a pay-off mechanism for big political contributors and fund-raisers. Governors have treated the post the same way presidents hand out ambassadorships. Please feel free to tell us what qualifications Symington appointees Munger, a lobbyist/lawyer, and Amos, a real estate broker, bring to the direction of higher education.

At least Jewett and Herstam, two former legislators, have won elections and voted on education budgets. In rejecting Cesare for Jewett, Hull actually upgraded the system.

PRIVACY, PLEASE: As you may recall, The Skinny recently was all over KVOA-TV, Channel 4's news team for wasting one whole half-hour in a shameless promo job for University Medical Center, where the relatives of several KVOA news nabobs hold PR jobs.

Now, hoping our kudos don't get him into trouble, we'd like to compliment reporter Frank "Mr. Blinkie" Field for his recent excellent series on privacy.

Field covered many aspects of the issue and even touched on hospital privacy, specifically featuring problems at UMC, where information is released to vendors about patients without their permission, and where information is gathered that goes beyond what hospitals need to function.

Congrats, Frank--nice job.

AND SPEAKING OF PRIVACY: This month's issue of the National Privacy Journal features a hospital-related article, specifically on the easy access to Social Security numbers at Veterans Administration hospitals throughout America. The article credits one of Tucson's best local gadflies, Willy "The Wildman" Bils, for having fought the issue to the attention of folks all the way to D.C. Nice shot, Willy. TW

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