Breakin' the law? South Tucson holds un-noticed council meeting to discuss bonds

News flash: Public meetings of elected governing bodies must be preceeded by agendas posted physically and online at least 24 hours prior to the meeting starting.

The South Tucson City Council was slated to hold a public meeting Monday night but failed to properly give notice under the law.

State statute requires a city or town to: 

(a) Conspicuously post a statement on their website or on a website of an association of cities and towns stating where all public notices of their meetings will be posted, including the physical and electronic locations, and shall give additional public notice as is reasonable and practicable as to all meetings.
(b) Post all public meeting notices on their website or on a website of an association of cities and towns and give additional public notice as is reasonable and practicable as to all meetings

Rather than give the public access to the agenda for the Monday, April 15 meeting, the city linked to an agenda document that was a copy of the last meeting, held on April 2. That incorrect document was linked to at least twice on the South Tucson website.

Acting City Manager Veronica Moreno said a worker in her office loaded the April 2 meeting agenda onto the city’s website, associating it with this week’s special meeting. 

No correction was made until after I called Moreno on Monday afternoon. The correct agenda for what’s counted as meeting 4809 in the city’s content management system was quickly uploaded, including a prominent red all-caps “correction” notice (although the incorrect original remained online).

Because the agenda wasn’t posted at least a day in advance, under state law, the meeting is illegal and anything decided Monday night is null and void.

Moreno is the acting city manager, city clerk, personnel director and for all I know, chief paramedic and bottle washer. The old critique “you had one job!” does not apply here so I’m willing to give her a pass for the mistake.

Then the lawyers chimed in and up came our hackles:

The Valley law firm of Pierce Coleman represents the city and says the operative part of the law allows for a meeting if “a technological problem or failure that either prevents posting public notices on a website or that temporarily or permanently prevents using all or part of the website does not preclude holding the meeting for which the notice was posted.”

Yeah, that’s for the website crashing, the server being down because of a DDoS attack, or the like. It’s not an excuse for someone loading the wrong meeting onto the website. I mean, there was a meeting listed on the website, with entirely incorrect information, so clearly technology wasn’t the problem. Human error was the problem. A worker just uploaded the April 2 agenda, rather than this week’s document.

It’s fine though, the lawyers say. There are no action items on the agenda. The South Tucson City Council will only discuss a tiny issue of minor importance: whether to take a $2 million bond measure to voters in the fall. Pffft. Who cares about that?

Just anyone wondering why they might pay an extra $10 a month in property taxes.

What the Phoenix-area attorneys are actually saying is “as there are no action items, there’s nothing that would need to be rescinded.”

I would remind the councilmembers that their lawyers work for them and not the public, who have a right to know and expect elected leaders to err on the side of transparency. The council works for the public and not their lawyers.

‘Out’ there on COVID

The Pima County Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday on approving a final tranche of coronavirus relief money to go out the door by 2026.

In total, the county has spent $120 million of the $200 million sent its way by Congress. The American Rescue Plan, passed in 2021, allocated $530 billion for state and local governments.

Pima County’s unspent money must be authorized this year, and the new plan includes some tweaks.

The county still has $30 million slated for the Northwest Services Center, where they’ve planned a health clinic and food truck safety inspection site.

Then there’s another $5 million in hospital and epidemiological infrastructure. So a bunch is going to health-related services.

Other programs that will still get funds include $4 million for emergency housing support; $1 million for Job Path and another $1 million for broadband assistance.

County Administrator Jan Lesher’s plan all along has been to make strategic investment that might save money in the future. A new air conditioning system requires less upkeep than an old one. If the feds are picking up the tab, then the local tax base won’t have to pay for the upgrade.

There’s a big caveat though, in that the Pima Early Education Program will be paid for by $14 million in yet-to-be-spent federal money.

At some point, the supervisors must shoehorn the preschool funding program into the county’s existing revenue structure. It’s not going to be easy.

Lesher was overridden by the Supes, who insisted on this spending. 

Is it worthwhile? Sure. But someone’s gonna have to figure out how to make it work long term as a general fund expense.

This part of the agenda run-down allows me to scratch an itch that’s been bugging me as my fellow scribes at the national level absolutely fail.

There’s a belief out there showing up in polls and focus groups that President Joe Biden came into office, spent trillions on coronavirus relief, infrastructure and climate change programs and, bang, inflation happened. The public doesn’t understand “out years.”

The American Rescue Plan allocated $1.9 trillion, including $530 million for state and local governments (including school districts). Much of that money is still being spent as inflation comes down. A portion (albeit a big one) went out right away. The $1,400 checks in 2021 added a bunch of liquidity (cash) into the economy that supercharged and maybe overheated the economy, contributing to inflation. I’m not arguing against that.

I’m just pointing out that when people hear about $1.9 trillion for COVID or $1.1 billion for infrastructure or $700 million for climate, don’t think that’s all going out the door in year one. Only a small portion will.

The federal government does 10-year spending programs. Year one is actually spent and the “out years” are just programmed and typically up for revision.

Treasurer in, treasurer out

Supervisors are scheduled to appoint a new county treasurer Tuesday, replacing a 23-year veteran of the post, Beth Ford.

They must appoint a Republican to fill out the term until voters decide this fall who will be her permanent replacement.

The candidates are Patti E. Davidson, who was Ford’s chief deputy for more than 10 years and Chris Ackerley, Ford’s hand-picked replacement. He’s running for the office, hoping voters hand it to him in November.

Former Supervisor Ray Carroll rescinded his application for the post, saying if Davidson wanted it, she should get it.

The supervisors, led mainly by Rex Scott, are souring on the idea of “hand-picked” replacements. Voters should incur the power of incumbency, not the board. I’m with them there.

There’s a problem, in that Ford has called Davidson “unqualified” because of her management style. She supports Ackerley for the post, and he’s eager to run as an incumbent. 

So the Supes have two people to choose from: A person who seemingly would be fitting for the post, but the longtime treasurer says shouldn’t get the job, or the guy wanting the seat for a full four-year term starting next year.

The thing the board should keep in mind is that this is a money-in, money-out job. Treasurers can’t nullify an election, direct mass prosecutions or cancel programs they don’t like. They write checks. They deposit checks. It must be done according to state law.

Not a lot of people know how to do this job. Ackerley and Davidson would appear be the only qualified Republicans not named “Beth Ford.”

Ford had served under former County Treasurer James Lee Kirk in the ’90s before winning the job in 2000.

The board could, I suppose, throw this process back open and find someone else. Seriously, dudes. Just play this one safe.

The safest pick seems to be Ackerley, though if Davidson were so bad, how did she stay on the job for more than 10 years?

No Republican can be in any way considered a shoe-in for the post. Pima County is now voting Democrat by 20 percentage points in election after election.

Ackerley is no radical MAGA but he’ll have a hard time convincing voters of that by November. It can be done. It’s just going to be hard.

Keep the money coming in and keep the money going out – legally.

Heinz makes play for nonprofit funding boost

Supervisor Matt Heinz wants the Board of Supervisors to pledge now to increase the “outside agency” budget by $600,000 to $3.9 million in fiscal year 2025.

Pima County distributes $3.3 million to 49 organizations, running 77 programs. These nonprofit groups include Catholic Community Services, the Girl Scouts and Youth on Their Own. The idea being that the people providing services know better how to stretch dollars for the broadest impact.

A committee appointed by individual board members and Lesher review applications for the funding and make recommendations during the budget process.

Heinz argues that people most vulnerable to economic shocks still haven’t recovered from the coronavirus pandemic.

He’s asking for the money ahead of a vote on the fiscal year 2024-25 budget. He’s not so much going around Lesher as he is asking the rest of the board to get behind her and push her in a direction she would not otherwise travel.

The Pima County Library has several new policies up for board approval, including one that  is an interesting dis of the Moms for Liberty crowd, eager to remove materials they find offensive. Y’know, books like Jackie Robinson’s autobiography and the “Diary of Anne Frank.” They both more than suggested white nationalists and fascists once did something bad. That might trigger little Britnnii, or more to the point, little Brittnii’s mom who mainlines Alex Jones.

So in new rules about database technologies and bulletin boards is a clarification that parents should have rights over what their kids read. However, those rights are limited to their own children. They don’t get to decide what’s right and wrong for everyone, no matter how badly they want to.

The county has been awarded a $700,000 contract by the Arizona Department of Health Services to deliver women’s health care to those who may not be able to afford it.

Mammograms, pap and HPV tests, will be provided as well as other referrals for diagnostics and cancer treatment.

The Well Women Health Check Program will only take affect after the county provides the state proof of insurance (I imagine the county has that covered) and the state provides written notice to begin.

Eight deputies versus an ‘invasion’

The Pima County Sheriff’s Department is requesting the board approve eight new deputies to be hired with a $350,000 Arizona Department of Public Safety grant to set up a border crimes unit. The grant is offered as a program meant to expand law enforcement against “criminal activities of illegal immigration, human smuggling and border-related crimes.”

So let me get this straight. The “Border Crisis” is so bad that it will destroy this country, but it’s only worth $350,000 to the Legislature? The state will pay to hire eight deputies when there are 262 miles of border to contend with in Pima County.

So this “invasion” isn’t worth disturbing Paradise Valley taxpayers over. Rather, not at a cost of more than a few hundred thousand dollars. Perhaps it’s just something some people are using to scare the public and not really as crisis-y as people say. Or it is a crisis but it’s better not to solve it because some people (not saying who) find it easier to get elected by making sure the crisis continues to play live on Fox News.

Lesher also has a plan to implement a hiring freeze… sort of.

I hesitate to call it a freeze because it only affects jobs vacant for more than 240 days. They will be eliminated on the first day of each quarter (October 1, Jan., 1, April 1, July 1) so long as interviews have not begun.

I get this. Governments are trying to batten down the hatches after the pandemic, as they won’t long be awash in all that COVID money. My only suggestion is to take part of that funding and give it to the employees who now must cover those positions.

Then again, Lesher did give a bunch of raises early in her tenure as the county’s chief executive and the board approved them. This is the back side of that. Congrats on the raise, now you are doing your former co-worker’s job, too.

The savings from the vacancies will go to a contingency account to address future need of the departments. That’s not bad. The money stays with the agency and it’s not a giant power grab out of the county administrator’s office.

Made for the shade

So, last summer a truck drove into a 12×50-foot shade structure at Steam Pump Ranch in Oro Valley.

Insurance will cover the cost of the damage, which totals about $97,000. However, after some community outreach and stakeholder involvement, the town now wants bigger shade covers spanning 180 feet by 12 feet, in part so more vendors can set up shop in the parking lot. These cost $379,000 minus the unspent insurance payment. 

So the town has to use $290,000 of the contingency money in the town’s general fund for the new shade and will vote on the plan during the Town Council’s meeting Wednesday.

Damn, the sun is expensive.

The council will vote on this during the same meeting as when they will discuss the master plan for Vistoso Trails Nature Preserve.

After taking to the public the idea of redevelopment of a golf course into a preserve, the town has determined that they need to focus on path repairs, safety signage, a scenic desert landscape for the former pond area and to re-vegetate with native seeds.

They’re only at the planning phase, so no cost has been estimated.

Tweaks and raises

Marana, meanwhile, will vote Tuesday on changes to its land development ordinances.

It looks like a clean-up job. For instance, soil samples taken more than 10 years ago will have to be updated with new boring work to prove nothing has changed before projects can move forward. Samples more than a year old must be accompanied by geotechnical engineering reports saying they are still relevant to the town’s law.

The update will also allow the staff to accept new subdivision infrastructure for the town to maintain. Developers build the roads, water and sewer lines, and once they are proven up to code, the government takes over keeping them up.

It also allows projects in floodplains to be approved only after property owners provide proof that their letter of compliance has been accepted by the feds. Basically, a subdivision can be approved with just a “Hey, I got the letter,” without taking further steps. 

This typically means building 1 foot above the 100-year flood level.

The ordinance changes read like real-world situations that the staff has run into over the years and remarked “We oughta change this part.” Now the staff wants the town council to sign off on those changes.

The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday to accept a new salary plan to improve wages with a new 34-grade step system. That’s kinda like military ranks.

The new plan will cost $328,000, of which $230,000 will come from the general fund.

Public Sector Personnel Consultants was hired by the board to conduct the study, which analyzed classification, job titling, market data, internal equity among co-workers and employee questionnaires.