The Replacements: A temp worker would be best to fill Bronson's seat on Pima Board

The Pima County supervisors shared a bit of collective wisdom back in the days when they shared cramped offices atop the 11-story Administration Building: “No permanent friends. No permanent enemies.”

I’ve got another one for them: No permanent replacement colleagues.

The board shouldn’t be able to confer the advantage of incumbency on appointees filling out the remainder of the terms of elected supervisors who resign.

The supervisors should keep that in mind Tuesday when they vote for a replacement for 27-year incumbent Sharon Bronson, who left office last month. Voters should bestow that power. Not the board members.

Eight are applying for the post, and three promise not to seek election in 2024. Choosing one of them would return the power to District 3 voters and that’s where it belongs.

Former state representative Matt Kopec and former Pima Community College District Governing Board member Sylvia Lee both said they would simply serve out Bronson’s term and not seek further election. So, too, does retired Assessor’s Office staffer (and repeat candidate for the top job there) Brian Johnson.

Each understands how government works, and can do the job until voters get a chance to pick the next supervisor.

Jennifer Allen is an early favorite in the scuttlebutt sweepstakes. She’d already announced her intention to run against Bronson, prior to the longtime Democratic supervisor leaving for medical reasons. U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva endorsed her candidacy. She was the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Arizona and worked for years as an advocate for migrants. The country needs them, uses them, criminalizes their presence and then likes to blame them for pretty much everything wrong with the society.

Allen stood up for them. Good work. She should have no problem winning a race next November.

Kristen Randall would practically have to feed puppies to a boa for me to say an ill word about her. She heroically stood up for renters’ rights during the pandemic and turned what had been a quasi-law-enforcement job of constable into arbiter between tenant and landlord to keep people from losing their homes if at all possible. She’s a self-made, up-from-her-bootstraps kind of woman and just a good person to know.

Here’s a ring, Kristen. Over there is a hat. Toss the latter into the former.

Randall and Allen are whom the rumor mill has one or two on the list.

However, there’s nothing wrong with the other candidates. All of them are Democrats because Bronson was a Democrat and the law requires replacements be of the same party as the person being replaced.

Joe Machado served as the Santa Cruz County attorney for eight years and knows how county-level budgets and policy works in Arizona. He says he has made a lot of contacts throughout his career and describes himself as a “competent attorney and individual.” OK, maybe sell yourself a little harder.

April Ignacio doesn’t have that problem. The Tohono O’odham tribal member says “It is without a doubt, I will be the best person to appoint.” That’s some salesmanship. Specifically, her experience as an advocate for the Native community sets her apart from the field. The Tohono O’odham Nation is largely within the boundaries of District 3. She’s also a self-described blue-collar worker, punching a clock as a warehouse manager. The board is supposed to be representative of the county and actual laborers move the region’s economy but do so with about as much representation as tribal communities – not much.

Edgar Soto is a Pima Community College administrator, who touts his experience in the field of education as a boost to his chances because he says he worked to break down barriers to higher education and provide access to career opportunities to students from wide-ranging backgrounds.

None of these candidates seem (emphasis on “seem”) whackadoodle or unable to jump in and fill the role. 

Whomever is chosen will have a huge leg up next fall if they seek to run. Incumbents on the board are 78-2 in primary and general elections going back to 1992. 

History shows that the community might have to get used to whomever the Board of Supervisors choose. Supervisor Ray Carroll was appointed to the District 4 post in 1997 and remained in his seat, winning election after election, until 2016. Supervisor Richard Elías was appointed to fill the spot left by Grijalva, who ran for congress in 2002. He remained on the job until he died in 2020. Ramon Valadez arrived an appointee in 2003 and stayed through many election cycles, until he was defeated during a Democratic primary by Matt Heinz in 2020. When the seat left empty by Elías was filled, the board majority picked Betty Villegas, who pledged to not run in the election later that year.

Look, all of them were good and all of them (save Carroll) probably could have won the seat outright had they run. Carroll was originally selected over the protests of the local GOP but eventually won most of their favor, despite his moderating ways in an increasingly strident party.

The four remaining supervisors each get a vote on Bronson’s replacement. So too does Board Clerk Melissa Manriquez — who works for the board as a whole.

There’s enough game theory involved in thinking about who might win the position on Tuesday to give even the most seasoned political observer a headache. But keep in mind that GOP Supervisor Steve Christy has repeatedly refused to vote for any Democratic appointees, and the 3 Democratic supervisors — Adelita Grijalva, Heinz and Rex Scott — could easily split to set up a 2-2 tie with the clerk’s vote the deciding factor for a particular applicant. Who would she favor?

The “Pima County Way” of having longtime powerful elected officials handpick their successors by resigning a year or two before the end of a term should probably go the way of the dodo and Clarence Dupnik. Let the voters make the call, Supes.

Accounting scheme

A financial problem at the Pima County Superintendent of Schools Office is still unraveling. 

The supervisors will vote Tuesday to postpone the annual comprehensive financial report of Superintendent Dustin Williams until the money issue is better understood.

Before everyone freaks out, there could be a reasonable explanation for this, kind of, maybe, hopefully.

The way school finances work is a bit… special.

Each school district doesn’t cut their own checks out of their own bank account to make, for instance, payroll. They send the amount to be paid to the county superintendent’s office, where it is forwarded to the county treasurer’s people, who cut the checks out of tax dollars held in the bank.

Apparently, someone at the superintendent’s office didn’t keep track of the exact dollars requested versus the exact dollars spent.

The big impact now seems like audits won’t be completed on time, which is important but not urgent in the sense that school districts won’t be hosed financially any more than they already are for existing in Arizona.

Had the districts not gotten their money, someone would have made a stink. If the districts were suddenly asking for outrageous checks, someone would have kicked up a fuss. I’ve been watching these numbers and they have stayed pretty constant.

So the mangled numbers look like a paperwork issue. If it is, it’s a bad one. Williams office doesn’t have a whole bunch of jobs that it’s supposed to get right. This is one of them. If it’s just a backtracking issue to make sure all the receipts match, then it’s not a case where the districts are suddenly facing a money shortage.

If it is not, then oh boy. We got a GATE-class scandal on our hands.

Change up

Of less intrigue but more costly appears to be a change order to county janitorial contracts with DBA Valetti and JanCo, Tucson vendors specializing in this business.

The contracts were awarded in 2018 with a “do-not-exceed” amount of $14.2 million. The next year, the minimum wage increased and the contract was adjusted. Same thing happened in following years and up and up the contract went.

Now, the final change order is up for a vote to raise the maximum amount paid to $25 million. That’s a significant amount and more than a bit weird.

Change orders are normal for unexpected costs. In fact, they are so normal, it makes one wonder why contingencies aren’t anticipated in the original bids.

Increases in the minimum wage were scheduled when Arizona voters approved them in 2016. That ballot measure set regular adjustments for cost of living more than a year before the county approved the janitorial services contracts.

The issue here is that a company can potentially underbid a job and undercut the competition, only to change the terms of the deal after they won it. This
process doesn’t indicate wrongdoing by these vendors, but the contracts
the county signs off on should more clearly indicate obvious increases
in the future.

On-time judgment

Pima County will vote to appoint judges pro tempore and for a special treat they will do this before the judge’s term starts.

Recently, the board has been anointing judges already serving on the bench, often months later.

Now, they are going to make appointments in December for jobs that start in January. Awesome. Small victories.

Frederick Klein and Erika Acle are up for six-month appointments that start in January. 

So too is Superior Court Judge Kenneth Lee, who will take a justice of the peace position. The idea is for Lee to act as a liaison between the county’s Consolidated Justice Court and Superior Court.

The first meeting

The Rio Neuvo Multipurpose Facilities District Board will hold its first meeting that includes a complement of new members appointed by Gov. Katie Hobbs.

The board will discuss: 

  • The final approvals to start the partnership to renovate and the block where the former Country Home Furniture store sits at East Broadway and Plumer Avenue.
  • Pursuing projects to replace two food and beverage districts that pulled out of a deal to move into vacant storefronts west of the Fox Theatre. 
  • The Board will discuss recent developments involving a $72.5 million mixed use development near West Cushing Street and South Linda Avenue, including a city request the developer improve the 1,100 feet along the river walk south from Congress Street to north of Cushing Street.