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For the IDEA beat, 2022 was a year of lifting COVID restrictions, gov't drama & untimely deaths

Year in review

For the IDEA beat, 2022 was a year of lifting COVID restrictions, gov't drama & untimely deaths

  • A view of the Tucson City Hall in 2022.
    Bennito L. Kelty/TucsonSentinel.comA view of the Tucson City Hall in 2022.

My colleague Paul Ingram remarked earlier this month that he felt like he has been writing death more this year than in any other.

Most notably, he and I had both done reporting on the shooting deaths of Pima County Constable Deborah Martinez in August and of University of Arizona Professor Thomas Meixner in October.

I also translated Paul’s article about the death of notable local veteran George Ybarra just after his long, tough fight for U.S. citizenship. He’s seen death crop up in other assignments though, such as in covering the Pima County Jail inmate fatalities and his obituary of local poet Richard Shelton.

Out of the stories I wrote this year, the one that stood out the most was about the murder of Sonoran journalist Juanito Arjón, whose body was found miles from his home on the side of a highway, wrapped in plastic.

I reported on Arjón’s death in Spanish, which is one reason why it stood out to me, and talked to journalists who knew him and even the city spokesperson accused of spreading rumors about him. It was a tough story to write, but I was thankful to draw attention to the record number of deaths of journalists in Mexico this year.

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I started working for the Sentinel in June 2021 as a Report for America corps member, though I had written a few pieces for us as a community freelancer before I began this gig. I can quickly agree with Paul because compared to that first year, I’ve written about more deaths in 2022 — all killings in my case.

Of course, that’s not all this year was. 2022 was an election year, the first one in which Pima County used vote centers. It was a year that showed signs of the COVID-19 pandemic waning, and many public health measures were removed.

It was also my first full year with the Sentinel, and what I enjoyed most about it was the people that I met who gave me these stories. They included many of Tucson and Pima County’s public servants but also the people who are looking for more out of their local officials.

I think it was a different kind of year for Tucson and the Sentinel. I hope our readers were well-informed from my stories, and I thank everyone who supports the work of our nonprofit newsroom. Here’s a look back at 2022 and the stories that I reported each month.

Cool bikes, rocky roads

The first story I wrote in 2022 is also one of my favorites of the year, and it was about the 25th anniversary of the 1996 documentary Low y Cool, which followed a group of young Chicanos on the South Side. Reporting that story helped me get to know Tucson better, as I’m from Aurora, Colo.

I love my Mexican roots, that being one reason I moved closer to the country, and got to talk with the director, Marianne Dissard, about her fascination with the lifestyle of the Camaradas, the bicycle club at the heart of the film. I also enjoyed watching the film.

January 2022 was the month when the Tucson City Council got into more serious discussions about leaving the Regional Transportation Authority, the special taxing district responsible across the metro area and its multiple jurisdictions.

The Council felt that the RTA was “'unfair, inequitable” and asked for more voting power on the RTA Board to have more sway over which road projects get prioritized. Their stance worried the Pima County Board of Supervisors and other jurisdictions in the RTA, but Tucson backed down on Feb. 1 after the RTA gave them more power on subcommittees.

Black history, rental assistance

February gave me the opportunity to dig into a bit about Southern Arizona’s Black history with a story about the posthumous promotion of Brig. Gen. Charles Young, a Buffalo Soldier who commanded Fort Huachuca a century ago, and took part in the expedition against Pancho Villa.

In March, the City Council meant to return to in-person meetings for the first time since the pandemic started but had to wait a bit more after some glitches in their chambers. It was also the month when Pima County decided voters would get to cast their ballot at any vote center for the upcoming election.

March also marked two years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and as the pandemic showed signs of waning, it left questions about what would happen with Pima County’s rental assistance programs, which were receiving a big boost from federal COVID relief.

I recently reported that Pima County is now expecting their COVID-era relief to run out by February, but they had already been running the program without the partnership of the city of Tucson for most of the year.

New hires, a 2018 shooting finally goes to trial

Close to the topic of evictions, March was also the month when Deborah Martinez took over as constable of Justice Precinct 8. She called for unity in the office when I first interviewed her as she was appointed two months after the “rebel eviction-enforcer” Kristen Randall had left because of a “great divide.”

I would end reporting on Martinez again in May, when Pima County released a report saying it was “very likely” that she had committed felony fraud and perjury. The state Constable Ethics Standards and Training Board had begun investigating her.

Before May came, I spent a few days in April watching the trial of the police officers who shot and killed Joel Andrade in 2018 as his family was finally bringing a lawsuit against Tucson police to court. The Andrade family lost, however, as a jury found the two officers were not negligent in how they handled the crisis situation that led to Joel’s death.

Also in the spring, Tucson finally appointed their first chief equity officer, Laurice Walker, filling a seat that had been vacant for two years.

School safety, rights and raises

In June, the Governing Board of the Tucson Unified School District, the only Arizona school district with an armed police force, voted to hire six more armed guards a few weeks after the school schools in Uvalde, Texas.

Pima County lowered the income threshold for free pre-K through their PEEPS program, which had also completed its first full year in May but was stymied from their goal of enrolling 1,200 kids because of staffing shortages and the pandemic.

The UA also waived undergraduate tuition for members of Arizona’s 22 federally recognized tribes, and Pima County gave its employees a raise to keep up with inflation.

Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned nearly 50-year-old Roe v. Wade decision on June 24, the Pima County Board of Supervisors declared abortion a "basic right." Later in the month, State Attorney General Mark Brnovich filed a suit to enforce Arizona’s 1864 abortion ban.

Monkeypox, teacher shortages and a primary

Early in July, Pima County reported its first case of monkeypox after an international outbreak began in early May originating in Africa.

The city of Tucson ended their eviction moratorium on the units they own as the federal government started pressuring them to collect rents again.

Later that month, as the start of the school year approached, school districts had to begin looking for teachers fast. TUSD considered hiring a virtual instruction company to teach their middle and high school math classes from Chicago. The Vail School District boasted almost 200 new teachers that they had hired because of “robust” talent pipeline.

TUSD started the school year with extra security but short of teachers but still tried to solve the problem by offering pay bumps to teachers who took extra work.

The primaries took place on Aug. 2, and Pima County finished counting votes shortly after, clearing a crowded congressional race and revealing a tight race for mayor in Oro Valley.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors, unhappy with reports of “election day woes,” called for a review of the primaries and problems with staff training, technology and delays. The review would later find that the primaries were “very successful.”

Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg came to Tucson in August to talk about federal investments in revitalizing the 22nd Street bridge.

Source of income, Colorado River & shocking deaths

Tucson published the draft of the source of income ordinance to stop landlords from denying people who rely on housing vouchers or other assistance. The Tucson City Council followed through with their source of income ordinance and passed it late September with clear support from residents.

August was also the month when the Bureau of Reclamation announced they would be shrinking allotments of water from the Colorado River and as much as 21% of Arizona’s water allotment to protect rapidly dwindling levels at Lake Mead and Lake Powell.

The city of Tucson had already said in March that they would return some of their Colorado River water on their own to do their part in slowing Lake Mead and Lake Powell’s decline.

Deborah Martinez’s funeral was on Sept. 1 after she was shot and killed on Aug. 25 while serving an eviction on Tucson’s North Side. She was honored in a speech by her former principal at Pueblo High School as well as their group Mariachi Azatlán.

UA professor Thomas Meixner was killed on Oct. 5, while leaving his classroom, and his funeral was a few days later on Oct. 14. He was honored by family and many friends, including fellow professors and the Boy Scout troop he led.

Constables again, the ‘tripledemic’ and a look ahead

In November, the Pima County Constables were again on my radar as two resigned and County Administrator Jan Lesher suggested reducing the salaries of less productive constables to urge them to even out their workloads. The Board of Supervisors would have so far held off on cutting pay and even awarded the constables new Tasers and body-cameras a couple of weeks later.

The county is still struggling to fill the remaining constable vacancy, however, because of a lack of qualified candidates. They also voted against hiring deputy constables, a plan put forward by Acting Presiding Constable Bill Lake.

The Board of Supervisors also shot down an effort by Supervisor Matt Heinz to audit Farhad Moghimi, the often-criticized head of the RTA. It marked another chapter in the continued feuding between RTA and leaders in some of its member jurisdictions.

Towards the end of November, Pima County health officials began worrying about the “tripledemic” of RSV, influenza and COVID-19, three respiratory diseases that have been spreading at historic highs though the community.

Throughout December, the county has stepped up their efforts to distribute COVID tests and vaccines as they did earlier in the pandemic. All Pima County libraries now offer free at-home COVID test kits and a few free mobile flu and COVID vaccine clinics will travel down to Green Valley.

Looking into the future, the Pima County Board of Supervisors were poised to welcome American Battery Factory to the region earlier in the month when they voted to allow plans for a $1.2 billion factory for battery cells needed for solar energy and electric vehicle energy storage.

Having brought up Green Valley, I also wanted to say that it was fun talking to Judge Ray Carroll about his plans to set up a traveling court to visit rural parts of his precinct and a night court open four times a year to give people the chance to come in after normal work hours to clear burdensome legal issues.

Carroll, who has a strong raspy voice filled with grit and sincerity, is trying to make sure he’s ready to serve the 30,000 people who will be added to his district after the Pima County eliminated JP5 in 2021. The new boundaries will take effect at the beginning of the new year.

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Bennito L. Kelty is’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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