Pima County Bonds: Love Fest

Chuck Huckelberry, as County Administrator, has dealt over the years with real estate powerhouse Don Diamond and his Diamond Ventures, as both allies and adversaries.  Huckelberry and Diamond have served together in many civic groups.  Huckelberry has been among the select few invited to Diamond’s exclusive birthday bashes, and the Pima County Administrator has described Diamond as “extremely influential…he’s a smart, crafty and intelligent individual.”

The New York Times, in 2008, described Diamond as “… an outsized personality who invites public officials aboard his flotilla of yachts (the Ace, King, Jack and Queen of Diamonds), specializes in deals with the government, and unabashedly solicits support for his business interests from the recipients of his campaign contributions.”

That support included Huckelberry convincing Pima County to purchase a “buffer zone” around Raytheon on the basis the land was needed to prevent the company leaving the area.  According to the Arizona Daily Independent, the land was purchased from Diamond for 200 – that’s two hundred — times its assessed value.

Arizona Daily Star reporter Tony Davis, reporting on a Huckelberry-Diamond public meeting of “the region’s most powerful leaders,” called their May, 2014, joint appearance a “love fest.”

Many of the bond players are members of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council: Diamond Ventures, UA Tech Park, Banner Health Corporation, TMC, Raytheon, Cox Communications, Sundt; along with the Arizona Daily Star and Senator Jeff Flake.

Also on the SALC board of directors is Lewis & Roca senior partner Si Schorr.  Real estate lawyer Schorr, who has worked for Don Diamond, chaired the State Transportation Board in 2008 when approval for a “major investment study” of an I-10 bypass through the Avra Valley was rammed through without hearing from any of the dozens of people waiting to speak.  That action provoked a near-riot causing the meeting to recess and police to be called in.  That bypass and Huckelberry’s Avra Valley I-11 route are virtually identical.

Sun Corridor Inc. used to be called the Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities, and many of the same interests are well-represented, including Diamond Ventures, Raytheon, Tucson Airport Authority, Sundt, the university and its commercial satellites, along with Yes campaign chair Larry Hecker, treasurer Steve Eggen and a number of local politicians.

Clearly, in the Pima County world of high finance and power politics, it’s a small world.  Much of it revolves around Chuck Huckelberry, the highest paid county employee at over $300,000 annually.  In that elite circle are the people who believe they know best, who manipulate the media to convince the 99 percent to let their hard-earned dollars be taken for the benefit of profitable and so-called non-profit corporations.  That includes the 501c(3) non-profits who do not believe themselves to be bound by rules governing participation in political campaigns.

CRACKS IN THE COALITION

There is evidence, however, that there are cracks in the Yes coalition.  Complaints are coming in about some projects being put off five and ten years, and more, while favored ones are first at bat.  A number of popular projects the Yes campaign is counting on to turn out voters face problems with additional fundraising to complete those projects, including matching funds.  They are asking to be moved up on the priority list.

These include: Neighborhood Reinvestment grants, open space acquisition, Old County Courthouse and San Xavier del Bac renovations, Old Tucson expansion, Marana Cultural & Historic Park and pool repairs, Flowing Wells Family Health Center, Tucson Symphony, January 8 Memorial, Tohono-O’odham Nation flood control, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, pedestrian safety walkways, and Colossal Cave Park.

Some also complain that operations and maintenance costs are not included in project budgets, costs some project recipients are unable to bear.  The project scheduling’s effect on additional fundraising necessary to a project’s success, plus the imposition of additional costs, raise the real question of whether some of the bond proposals will ever be implemented.

The County Administrator will present a final Bond Implementation Ordinance to the Board of Supervisors on September 15.

DEMOCRACY IS OPTIONAL…?

A personal note: I’ve always voted for bonds.  Seemed like the right thing to do…until the Picture Rocks Fire District bond election in 2007 got me looking closer at what I always took for granted.

Only eight percent of eligible voters voted in that election because no one knew about it.  State law allows fire and water districts to either send out a publicity pamphlet informing voters, or post a notice on the firehouse door and publish an ad in the Daily Territorial.  Which, of course, we all read regularly.

Turned out the Phoenix bond attorney got $20,000 if it passed but only his expenses if it failed.  So it was in his best interest to keep voter turnout low.  When I asked him how not notifying voters of the election furthered the democratic process he said, “Democracy is optional.”  I don’t think so.

The web is tangled: Pima bonds, Diamond, Raytheon, UA, Banner, Sundt Construction, TMC, CopperPoint, Sun Corridor, SALC, Davis Monthan, Huckelberry, McCain, Hecker, Eggen, Board of Supervisors, and so on.  Some call it “crony capitalism,” a “good old boys (and girls) club.”  Others say it’s the one percent making decisions for the 99 percent.

Democracy only works if we work it.  Whatever you think about the bonds, be sure to vote.  The deadline to register to vote is October 5.  The election is November 3.

 

About Albert Vetere Lannon 107 Articles
Albert grew up in the slums of New York, and moved to San Francisco when he was 21. He became a union official and labor educator after obtaining his high school GED in 1989 and earning three degrees at San Francisco State University – BA, Labor Studies; BA, Interdisciplinary Creative Arts; MA, History. He has published two books of history, Second String Red, a scholarly biography of my communist father (Lexington, 1999), and Fight or Be Slaves, a history of the Oakland-East Bay labor movement (University Press of America, 2000). Albert has published stories, poetry, essays and reviews in a variety of “little” magazines over the years. Albert retired to Tucson in 2001. He has won awards from the Arizona State Poetry Society and Society of Southwestern Authors.