New meat: Tucson, Pima County take up key replacements

This week in public meetings is all about replacements.

The Tucson City Council will consider Tuesday promoting Timothy Thomure to city manager from his current job as deputy city manager. They will also discuss the process of finding a new Council member serving Ward 6, after Steve Kozachik turned in his resignation last week.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors will talk about how to go about replacing County Treasurer Beth Ford, who resigned her post two days after Koz left.

Let’s start with Thomure.

I can see how the Council would not want to conduct a long national search to bring in a new face from elsewhere.

The city is in the midst of executing a climate action plan, a prosperity initiative with Pima County, is starting to wrap its arms around the homelessness issue and is sparring with the Regional Transportation Authority about re-upping for another 20 years.

Bringing a “fresh set of eyes” to come up with their own take on these issues probably wouldn’t serve the Council’s interests much.

Love ’em or hate ’em, the City Council has been on a bit of a roll pursuing their objectives. 

Replacing Kozachik will be difficult in one sense but easy in another. They’ll find a good progressive to take his place. However, Koz brought a relentless pragmatism to the Council that it could still use. Some might have found it annoying, but the former Republican’s ability to size up issues will be missed if the rest of his colleagues fill his seat with a good Democratic soldier.

Also, the last time the Council found a replacement, they went with former colleague Karin Uhlich to serve out the term of Paul Durham in Ward 3. Uhlich made it known before taking the seat that she would not seek her own term.

We’ll see if the Council goes this way with the new open seat.

What will the supervisors do about Beth Ford?

It’s a mystery.

On the one hand, the last two times they approved replacements they chose applicants who were not seeking their own full terms. They weren’t going to use the power of appointed incumbency to help secure their own elections.

Well, Ford appointed former state lawmaker Chris Ackerley to be her deputy at the Treasurer’s Office. She pointed that out in her resignation letter. Ackerley, meanwhile, is running to replace Ford. Therefore, the board would have to do for Ackerley what it wouldn’t do for Jennifer Allen, who sought appointment to Sharon Bronson’s seat when she resigned late last year. Allen was also running for Bronson’s seat. 

Here’s the thing, though. The board has to pick a Republican because Ford was elected as a Republican. State law says so. And Ackerley has yet to behave like he’s one of those new school Republican crazies who is looking for demonic mermaids. Yes, demonic mermaids.

I assume Ackerley would do the job well enough that no one notices he’s around. 

Who would be better to handle the county money, other than the number two person in the office? Ford had a very particular job. It’s not like the board has a list of other county treasurers to choose among. Ford did fine in a job where “fine” is great. Don’t lose the money. Make sure it goes where it’s supposed to and do it every month.

Beth Ford was MAGA enough to fly a Trump flag in front of her house. And yet Pima County voters elected her over and over again.

It’s not like Ackerley would be in a position to cash in on his incumbency to roll to election. Pima County tilts 20 percentage points to the Democrats. Without having been around for decades, he’s gonna have a tough go against the Democratic nominee.

If not Ackerley, whom?

Meanwhile, both the City Council and the Supes are counting down the days to the end of federal funding to care for migrants crossing the U.S. Mexico border to seek legal asylum. 

Currently, Las Adelitas and Catholic Community Services work together to transit about 1,000 migrants a day through the area to their ultimate destinations, while they await their day in court. These non-profits rely on federal funds administered by Pima County. That money is going away. 

County Administrator Jan Lesher informed the supervisors earlier this month that the money will run out and the county will have to get out of the business of helping migrants to the degree it’s been involved.

The city doesn’t know what to do yet. During a meeting earlier this month, they were brainstorming and spitballing ideas ranging from trying to house them at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to shipping them to Phoenix. That was a rhetorical gambit to highlight the seriousness of the situation, and not an actual proposal.

Still flummoxed, the Council isn’t scheduled to meet again until after the money runs out. The county supervisors aren’t even talking about the issue during their Tuesday meeting.

It’s about to get very real.

Some Tucsonans are already freaking out about the breakdown in social order as they witness homelessness in town. The city since last January has contacted 3,200 unsheltered people. Thats’ probably more or less the homeless count right now. A thousand migrants a day are about to arrive with nowhere to go. The number of homeless may triple in a couple weeks depending on how many are able to get to the friends and family elsewhere without stopping here.

Republicans in Congress have made clear that they will not support any border compromise. A border deal passed the U.S. Senate but House Republicans like U.S. Rep. Juan Ciscomani bowed down to former President Donald Trump. He’s the GOP presumptive nominee and what’s about to happen to Tucson serves him better than a solution.

Ciscomani serves Trump and not Tucson. The plan is not to fix anything.

They have another plan: Sow chaos, blame it on President Joe Biden and promise order to be delivered only with the election of Trump.

Oh, were it that simple, but I’m not going to take the time here to detail the crap fest awaiting a second Trump administration. Suffice to say Trump II would make Trump I look like the Eisenhower era.

Of course, there’s a possible catch. This crush could hit Tucson so fast and so hard that people will say “Wait, this problem wasn’t here a week ago. What happened?” The Trump-Ciscomani plan works best if no one asks any questions. 

Fighting fires

County supervisors are also looking at a request from South Tucson to help cover the $400,000 shortfall in fire service that tiny city wants to outsource to the city of Tucson. 

However, the city of Tucson has told the city of South Tucson it could not simply extend service. It would need to gear up to the tune of $1.9 million in up front costs (including $1.2 million for a new pumper truck) and $2 million in ongoing costs to cover South Tucson’s one square mile.

Really? The price is $2 million a square mile? Got a $452 million fire budget do you, Tucson?

No, it’s less than half that.

For what it’s worth, South Tucson now spends $1.6 million to pay for the fire service it’s having trouble affording as it figures out how to buy new fire trucks at a million a pop with an citywide budget of $7.5 million.

This reads like the city saying “We got our own problems. We don’t have time or money for this sort of thing.”

Stay tuned to see how it turns out. 

Supervisors will also vote on a plan to shutter Pima Vocational High School. 

The county’s charter school was the brainchild of former Supervisors Dan Eckstrom and Raul Grijalva, who led the push to establish it in 2000. The plan was that it would never take a dime of general fund money. The state was supposed to pay for all of it, as it largely does with other charter schools.

That didn’t last. Since the mid-2000s, it’s been getting a regular quarter-million-dollar investment of county cash. Enrollment has also been steadily declining from a high of 236 in 2015-16 to 57 students this year.

I think about former Supervisor Bronson whenever I hear about something like a county charter school. She would regularly bristle against the county taking on projects not central to its core mission. County governments were established by law to do very basic things: Run the courts, provide prosecution and indigent defense, tend to land-use policy and protect public health.

Running charter schools aren’t part of that. However, Pima County just happens to have a large urban population that it must serve because annexation and incorporation have failed to swallow up Tucson’s urban footprint.

Lesher is recommending the county just shut down the whole thing and revoke its charter.

The school may have served a broader purpose once, but the vocational niche became somewhat redundant with the establishment of of Joint Technical Educational Districts in 2007.  

Budget de la gente

The City Council will discuss a budget pilot program that will set aside part of an annual spending plan to be programmed by voters.

Councilmember Lane Santa Cruz is recommending “participatory budgeting” as a way to involve Tucsonans in deciding where some of the money goes. The West Side Democrat wrote in a memo to colleagues about using “Budget de la Gente” for Ward 1’s small neighborhood investment pool.

If it increases public participation in democracy, awesome. If it devolves into non-stop carping about who gets what and which neighborhood is more worthy than another, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Council will also get its monthly rundown on homelessness and there’s not a lot new to report. The city continues to move Tucson Police away from responding to calls about homeless camps. Instead, they are on standby as social service workers try to connect unsheltered people with options to get off the street. The cops have other priorities.

Psst. Don’t tell anyone but that’s basically the meat of “defund the police.” Not every 911 call requires a badge, gun and handcuffs.

City staff will also provide an update on impact fee collection around Tucson.

Impact fees are how the city tries to make growth pay for itself. Land developers pay what is basically a “roof tax” for new homes to fund public safety, parks and water services.

The city has collected more than $154 million in impact fee revenues during the past 20 years and spent $79 million. It’s got $85 million in the bank. 

That’s the good news. The bad news is that new home construction tanked during the first two decades of the 2000s and housing prices are now so high they are locking people out of the home market. That’s also helping drive up rents.

I’m not saying one directly led to another but it did follow and Southern Arizona Home Builders Association did warn about this back in the day. I mean, there was also a major crash in home values that followed the mortgage meltdown of late 2000s and that clearly played a major role. 

Marshal forces

God, I love Arizona!

Under state law when a community incorporates and becomes a town, the new government is ordered to appoint a town marshal and town treasurer. In Marana, the town marshal is the town clerk. I’m sure the town clerk is a fine person but what is it about the skills required for being a good clerk that translate into a law enforcement officer?

Meanwhile, the police chief is responsible for collecting licensing fees. Huh? What made Marana think that the top law dog is the guy to write checks to?

Apparently, the town’s senior staff is with me on this. The Marana Town Council will vote to make the police chief the town marshal and allow the city clerk to collect fees. The treasurer’s position will be morphed into the town Finance Director. 

All three of these moves will require a vote by the council on Wednesday. Apparently, this required a review of the official duties afforded each.

This sort of stuff doesn’t happen in Fairport, N.Y. My hometown was sans marshal, let alone a clerk who could double as one. Although, my Uncle Ed was town of clerk of Henrietta, N.Y. It was a foolish soul who messed with that Marine.

The town of Oro Valley recently bought the Vistoso Trails golf course and is set to turn it into a nature preserve.

Sites Southwest, an Albuquerque, N.M.-based planning firm, was brought on to put together a plan for what to do with the 202-acre property. The consultant has subsequently done what town staff calls “extensive community engagement, research and data collection” about public sentiment. 

Now the council will hear during a study session about the results of that outreach.

Friends of Vistoso Trails responded to a request to list priorities, which included cart path repairs, redesigning the pond on the site, reseeding and revegetating landscapes, fairways, greens and tees.

The general public also responded to the survey and the one different priority from the first group was reconstructing the bathrooms on the property.

The South Tucson City Council will discuss the state of RTA Next and its roll in the 20-year regional transportation planning effort.

Tucson is kind of holding things up, as council members are concerned the big city isn’t getting as much as its putting into the project.

That means someone will get more than they contribute in half-cent sales tax revenues meant to fund the projects.

South Tucson is a pretty high on the plus side depending on how the RTA board finally chooses to proceed. It’s got two different ideas for South Tucson.

A citizens advisory council has recommended $56 million for a railroad overpass at 36th Street. The RTA’s technical management committee would set aside $25 million to be spent as South Tucson sees fit over the life of the plan. Both proposals include $600,000 a year for transit.

I haven’t run any numbers but I’m thinking I’m on safe ground saying South Tucson won’t be generating $25 million over 20 years, let alone $56 million. South Tucson collects $4 million on a five cent sales tax. So it would probably generate something like $8-15 million. So if Tucson’s losing a place like South Tucson is winning.

The Tucson City Council likes to complain about underserved communities. Well, South Tucson would appear to qualify. I hear that place is struggling to provide fire service. Maybe the Tucson council should get on that and not charge $2 million a year to help an underserved community out.