Going into today, I knew the vote on the texting ban would be 3-2 in favor. But what actually transpired I couldn’t have guessed.
The first bombshell dropped only minutes into the business of the meeting when Chair Bronson prepared to adjourn to Executive Session for consultation with legal counsel: Supervisor Elias actually interrupted to seek public comment regarding the matter for which the Board sought counsel. His outreach belies the fact that he knows we’ve caught him, that he has clearly heard that his constituents disapprove of his recent dismissal of them (to wit, claiming “to me, eh, non-issue” when contemplating an evening Board meeting once a month).
Chair Bronson later interrupted the regular agenda for something sensible for a change: She scheduled the hearing on the handheld devices ban at 10:00. Most of the testimony was emotional and passionate; every wannabe-screenwriter in town seemed to tug at the Board’s heartstrings in favor of the feel-good legislation of the year.
Except that new law shouldn’t serve to make anyone feel good, new law should serve reason and the public interest. One of the law enforcement witnesses to the hearing cited a study that attributed only 1% of traffic fatalities in the State of Arizona to mobile devices. And 60% of the Board voted in favor of an incomplete ordinance to combat that 1%. What about the other 99%?
We elect legislators to make laws after careful consideration–or at least, we should. Have we sunken so low in this country that we expect our County representation to be as hollow and as useless as the United States Congress?
Elias did not stop to consider other consequences of this law. “I’m moved by the speakers today,” he said. This, again, from the guy who never heard from his constituents who wanted evening Board meetings. Perhaps he completely tunes out unless he’s sitting on the dais.
Supervisor Valadez offered a substitute motion that would have created a publicity campaign, conducted six months of a pilot program, and issued warnings with handheld device use as a primary offense. That wasn’t a bad proposal, but it received no second and died.
He also claimed that the ordinance as proposed was discriminatory on a socioeconomic basis. Let’s correct that: The only cell phone that doesn’t come with a basic wired headset in the box is the newest iPhone with the wireless Bluetooth AirPods. Anyone who can afford a $1,000 phone can shut up about spending $40 on a Bluetooth device. And even if someone loses the wired headset, replacements are available at Walmart for under five bucks. It’s not discriminatory, so drop that idiotic line.
Supervisor Miller agreed that there was nothing about the ordinance that was discriminatory, but she was quick to throw her support behind Supervisor Elias’s motion, going so far as to cite Oro Valley’s early warnings as evidence enough and seeking a law with teeth and strong enforcement.
Supervisor Christy sought to restore reason to the proceedings: He was crystal clear that nobody on the Board approves of texting while driving. However, he noted that there had been too little information publicized noting that the action would now be reason enough for a traffic stop (that is, that handheld device use would now be a primary offense). He also sought additional time for public input and education, and to research differences between the laws in the various jurisdictions within the County. He also was the only member of the Board to ponder the unintended consequences of such an ordinance.
Rather than convincing people to stop using handheld devices, this ordinance, combined with human nature, is more likely to prompt drivers to conceal their handhelds in their laps where they must divert their attention for even longer than before. And, again, we’re looking at 1% of crashes.
The County has gravely neglected its roadways. Traffic, in some areas and at various times, is garishly inefficient. And now, using a mapping application to get around town–an action indistinguishable to anyone outside the driver’s vehicle from texting–could earn a County resident a ticket.
After multiple motions and substitute motions, Supervisors Elias, Miller, and Bronson voted to enact the new ordinance, overriding Supervisors Christy and Valadez who asked for further study.
What the ordinance should have included, before the Board passed it, was a consideration that technology changes faster than the law can normally keep up. With lane-change sensors, distance-sensitive cruise control, automatic braking systems, and all the other affordances technology gives us to ensure that we can drive safely when we divert a bit of our behind-the-wheel attention to other things, a law like this should have a sunset clause, because the technology will soon catch up to make speech recognition more than accurate enough to enable precise texting–it’s oh-so-close as it is–and to cast mapping applications to the vehicle’s own displays and controls. But it is so much harder to rescind a law than it is to allow a law to sunset on its own or to renew it before it sunsets.
That would have been a better approach.
The rest of the meeting continued as it normally does, with one conspicuous exception. Supervisor Miller questioned several contracts that fail to pass the sniff test, including a contract renewal with no competitive re-bidding to an individual contractor based out-of-state for website maintenance.
Hey, I can do that! And I live here!
Bronson did get in her digs, calling her Republican colleagues “confused” over the unclear form the County uses for describing federal grants to the Supervisors. If the form is so clear, Madam Chair, in all your wisdom, why was the form already under revision? Supervisors Miller and Christy raised multiple objections over this matter, and rightly so.
Bronson dug further into that hole, suggesting that staff “dumb down” the form. Supervisor Christy retorted that if the County publishes information in such a convoluted form that the Board cannot digest it, the County shouldn’t expect the general public to digest it, either. But he certainly didn’t ask to “dumb down” anything. Bronson’s rude reply: That she can’t understand how an airplane works, but that she still will use on. What an offense to her constituents!
Then came an item to close the meeting, an item related to the Huckelberry-Bronson Waste Machine’s favorite boondoggle, World View. The matter before the Board was actually relatively benign: inventory the furniture (FF&E, or furniture, fixtures, and equipment) that the County purchased for the building it presently leases to World View, and adjust the company’s lease payment up retroactively to December to reflect the fact that the final size of the space is larger than originally planned.
This wasn’t a debate over throwing away additional taxpayer monies, so the final vote didn’t much matter (it passed 4-1, actually). The issues were the offensive things Huckelberry said:
First off, he claimed that the uber-high-end furniture the County purchased came at a 70% discount. The ADI has documents that show otherwise. Regardless, 70% off Herman Miller is still more costly than 70% off Ikea (and probably more than full-price Ikea, at that). The County overspent, no matter what. And, adding salt to the wound, Huckelberry even acknowledged that the deal with World View is a lease-to-purchase agreement that may never lead to a purchase. He gave his chums one hell of a nice place to blow up their balloons for however long they can keep investors playing along. We get to foot the bill, just waiting for the balloon to pop.
When the flawed business model of World View comes to its inevitable end, you and I will be left with the debt and a bunch of used, overpriced furniture, courtesy the County. If you try to leave, don’t get caught using a mobile device mapping app to get around the gaping Pima County potholes on your way.