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Tucson City Council set to give manager a $75k raise
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Tucson City Council set to give manager a $75k raise

Lunch prices, COVID-19 relief highlight TUSD Governing Board meeting, plus more in local gov't meetings this week

  • Tucson City Manager Mike Ortega stands to get a $75,000 per-year raise after seven years on the job.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comTucson City Manager Mike Ortega stands to get a $75,000 per-year raise after seven years on the job.

Tucson City Manager Mike Ortega is slated to get a raise, and make $75,000 per year more than he made in 2020.

The City Council is set to vote Tuesday on paying him $300,000 a year. Sacramento ranks just behind Tucson in population and the city manager there earned $374,000 annually in base pay in 2021. Fresno, the U.S. city just ahead Tucson in population, pays its manager $247,000 in base salary.

So it's in the  ballpark, I guess if one were to use that wildly unscientific salary comparison. 

The city is being opaque and cheesy about how big of a raise Ortega is getting. Mike Ortega was very clear about his proposed salary.

But this is how he described his current salary in a report to the council

On June 19, 2018, the Mayor and Council, after an executive session discussion and review of the City Manager’s performance, directed the City Attorney to prepare and bring back an Amendment No. 3 to the City Manager’s Agreement to provide for the continuing employment of Michael Ortega as the City Manager. Amendment No.
3 was approved on October 9, 2018. On August 23, 2022, the Mayor and Council unanimously approved a motion finding that the City Manager’s performance has met and exceeded expectations, and directing the City Attorney to prepare a renewal to the City Manager’s Employment Agreement to incorporate terms as discussed in the executive session.

Oh, c'mon! Should the party of the first part, comply with amendment A, under pain of perjury in the aforementioned provisions, notwithstanding any foregoing language ...

The sentence the author (cough, cough) Ortega was looking for reads like this: "The city manager's current salary is $225,000."

I have a theory about politics. Instead of trying to conceal something from the public, throw it out there and say "I did it and I'd do it again." Do the right thing and explain why.  

The raise is defensible. A good city manager overseeing a $2 billion budget can save $75,000 by the first coffee break, day one on the job.

It's a bit harder to justify when city workers are getting an across-the-board $2,013 pay raise and police recruits are proving hard to find. 

Still the right thing to do should be easy to explain. If it can't be explained, then maybe don't do it. 

Good things

For instance, the Council is set to vote on a new three-year agreement with the Pima County Animal Care Center to tend to the well-being of animals. 

The city pays outside agencies and nonprofits to do the heavy lifting, and will not be responsible for paying a share of PACC operations.

So the spending has already been budgeted.

See, that's a good thing. I explained it easily.

The city is set to renew an agreement with the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System to help local hospitals.

The deal calls for the city to contribute $2.6 million to help hospitals defray the cost of the uninsured needing emergency medical care. This is necessary to keep hospitals – emergency rooms, in particular – in business.

The agreement also allows hospitals absorb the cost of training new health care workers (including physicians) needed during chronic staffing shortages.

Depending on the program, the federal government could provide up to a 4-1 match of the city's investment.

A couple Council members are eager to kickstart an "overlay district" along Grant Road from North Swan Road to North Campbell Avenue.

Councilmembers Kevin Dahl and Steve Kozachik are asking their colleagues to start the process of getting an overlay zone established.

Basically, what Dahl and Kozachik want is flexibility within the area's current zoning constraints to improve transit, pedestrian traffic, urban infill and projects that incorporate residential, commercial and office. 

Compliance would be optional but much of the land along this corridor has already been developed.  The special zoning would provide builders a way to make projects happen without adhering to the absolute letters of current rules and restrictions.

This is a study session agenda item, so it's all just talk and telling the staff, "Hey, bring us a report."

It's an interesting idea. 

And not so good ...

Two Council executive session items will deal with a lawsuit filed by Christopher Day against the city of Tucson after his skull was fractured during an arrest in 2020.

During the arrest, Klingler delivered multiple blows to Day, who was not compliant but did not pose a threat, according to TPD's own finding. 

The Tucson Civil Service Commission summarized the report's finding: "Klingler’s use of force not proportionate to the resistance given, Officer Klingler was not in jeopardy during the encounter as Mr. Day was face down with one arm being held by Officer Martinez and the other pinned under his chest."

Day is now suing the city over the incident.

The city attorney gives the Council legal advice behind closed doors and the public won't hear about the particulars until there's a vote on a settlement or the case goes to court.

Finally, during the meeting the board will vote on a small rezoning on the Southeast Side. The Tucson Unified School District's desire to sell some land prompted this rezoning.

The school district owns 9.7 acres on South Portia Avenue and East Watson Drive.  TK Homes is set to buy the property, contingent on the property first being rezoned for a 49-unit subdivision the developer wants to build.

That's some pretty high density and the 0.3 acres of open space is incorporated into the plan, is decidedly small. Nine neighbors  protested the rezoning during a Zoning Examiner's hearing, while three supported it.

However, the city needs infill development and the project conforms with the South Pantano Area Plan. So the zoning examiner recommended the Council approve the plan with a few technical adjustments.

A $3 lunch

The TUSD Governing Board will vote on school lunch prices.

Breakfast will cost K-5 students $1.50 and those students will pay $2.50 for lunch. Students from fifth to 12th grade will pay $1.75 for breakfast and $3 for lunch. 

Reduced meal prices will run 25 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch.

The district will also get a briefing on the status of its coronavirus relief money stands.

Yes, the days of masks and lockdowns may be largely in the past, but spending money off the American Rescue Plan is still happening and the district has yet to even allocate $17 million of the money it received.

So far the district has spent $14 million on laptops, 7.2 million on paying 257 full-time equivalent positions, $5.8 million on vaccine stipends, $5.5 million on technology and $63 million on stipends to keep faculty from walking out the door.

The Catalina Foothills Unified School District Governing Board will also be discussing the status of their educational relief dollars. The district has received $2.3 million but will plans to lay out Tuesday how the money is being spent and do so directly to the board.

However, Superintendent Mary Kamerzell did discuss in a memo to the board how the money could be spent.

The money was necessary for COVID-19 mitigation strategies. Beyond that, cash was made available to help shore up learning deficits driven by students being out of class during the pandemic.

It also allows for capital expenses, technology and teacher retention.

Catalina Foothills has also prepared a policy for adoption to comply with new law that gets to what the state Legislature clearly thinks is  the number one crisis in our time apparently: Sex. 

Side note: Anyone who thinks people doing it is a threat the fabric of civilization, consider for a moment what happens to civilization if they stop.

The law basically says no sexually explicit material shall be taught in classrooms unless it meets educational exceptions, and bars sex education before fifth grade.

Was that ever something that happened in Arizona? Or is it just a law politicians pass to make it seem like they are doing about something, even if it is not happening? 

Can kids watch "Leave it to Beaver" on TV Land without parental consent?

I'm sorry. This is not about creating parental rights. It's about satisfying crazy people. I define crazy people as the ignorance-is-strength crowd who believe kids are more likely to have sex if it's discussed by a 55-year-old health teacher going on about Collective Soul.

Anyway, as CFUSD is under the jurisdiction of the Arizona Legislature, it must comply with a policy the school board is set to approve.

Driving prices up

The Vail Unified School District is having a beast of a time finding bus drivers and attendants. In fact, the district had 19 percent of drive openings unfilled last school year and 21 percent of bus attendants.

After consolidating routes, the board now is moving onto cash packages to address the issue.

New drivers without commercial drivers licenses would get $200 bonuses when they complete training, after six weeks on the job and after 180 days of work. That's a $600 signing bonus for bus drivers. It goes up to $900 for new hires with their commercial license, as they get $300 at each stage.

And drivers on special-needs routes will get an extra $1 an hour. Bus monitors on these routes would get paid $14.50 an hour to start.

But wait! There's more!

Drivers and attendants who don't call in sick will get $50 per month and $150 per quarter. 

The district is also putting forth performance goals for the upcoming school year and the measurable kind at that.

The district wants to throw down a marker on student assessments, aiming for all the district schools to score A or B ratings.

Also, the district wants every teacher to contribute something to the "Beyond Textbooks" program.

Beyond Textbooks was established during the days of Superintendent Calvin Baker, something of a legend in local education circles for his success leading the district. The idea of the program was to establish a program based how well Vail did in student achievement and spread it around to other school districts.

The board can help, too, by actually putting goals before the public that are measurable and then figure out what went right and what went wrong in trying to reach them.

Oh, wait. It looks like they are doing that.

Night of the living policy update

Meanwhile, the Flowing Wells Unified School District Governing Board is going in another direction.

On the Tuesday agenda, the board will discuss 22 (twenty-two!) district policies that need changing or amending.

I've been covering local government meetings since the Cowboys were winning Super Bowls during Bill Clinton's first term. I don't think I've ever seen administrators ask a school board or town council to vet 22 policies in a single meeting.

The closest would be utterly interminable Arizona Board of Regents Meetings. They try to pull off stuff like that but they do it over two days of eight hour meetings.

It's a list includes polices concerning sex education, hazing, immunizations and student admissions — so it's not razors to be used to remove gum from desks. They have some beef to them.

Now, maybe these are minor changes but it would help if the district made them available to the public so the people can see what's going on. 

District administrators aren't being asked to approve the changes this week but is asking for feedback. 

Maybe the changes are tiny. Maybe a plan exists to move through them fast but... man. That's a lot.

Better business

The Sahuarita Town Council has taken most of the summer off but is back on the dais this week. In their defense, they meet more often than most governing bodies.

The council will vote on a contract with the Green Valley Sahuarita Chamber of Commerce to help pay for 50 site visits with local businesses. 

It's a form of economic development that doesn't get the screamers across the top of Page 1A when a new business agrees to come to town. Help existing business grow or stay in business.

If communities do it right, it's a lot cheaper and far more productive than chasing the white whale of an Amazon warehouse that was never coming or sallying forth into high-altitude balloon rides.

Say those sight visits somehow can lead to 25 jobs. The town is out $1,000 a job. Who thinks a company with 250 jobs can be lured into town with $10,000 in tax abatements, property donations or infrastructure improvements. Hell no. 

The town will also take a moment before the meeting to honor Sahuarita Police Officer Matthew Fontes.

On Aug. 25, he responded to a call at a Wal-Mart on South Nogales Highway, where a man was suffering a cardiac arrest.

Fontes delivered the chest compressions that saved his life. 

We should remember that among the police, there are more Matthew Fontes types out there than guys beating on suspects who are prone and not threatening anybody.

The Nogales City Council will vote on eliminating the three lowest-paid salary categories for workers.

If approved, the minimum annual salary at the city of Nogales would total $29,015.

The city is also set to consider an updated version of the deal it has with the International Boundary Commission to run the sewer treatment plant.

The city and Santa Cruz County are desperate to get the bi-national commission to take over the whole treatment system serving Nogales in Arizona and Sonora. Nogales, Ariz., runs it now but the small town is overwhelmed by operating a system used by a big city on the other side of the border.

Up in Marana, the Town Council has a single item on its Tuesday study session agenda – the White Stallion Ranch annexation.

The property management firm Saunders and Amos is presenting the annexation proposal of 218 acres along Twin Peaks Road west of Continental Ranch.

However, before they ask for the property to be officially annexed, the property team wants to run a development proposal for the property.

The idea is to build an equestrian subdivision, with 175-acres of single family and commercial construction alongside 40 acres of open space.

"The White Stallion Ranch intends to continue its cultural significance by providing guests and visitors an enhanced and unique western ranching experience while maintaining its environmental importance to the region," is how the property team puts it in the presentation to the council.

I use the term property team because neither Saunders and Amos, nor the owners claim to be the developer. 

They are asking for county zoning to be translated into Marana's rules, which isn't a traditional rezoning. 

What community leaders try to avoid is subdivided land to become actual subdivisions over time without following subdivision rules regarding paved roads, drainage and basic services.

Also, development is better planned within municipal boundaries than in the unincorporated county. Counties are not set up to provide urban services. They are just different political animals than the towns or cities.

A subdivision proposal seeking to avoid both by seeking annexation and accepting any rules Marana has for subdivisions. checks two important growth management boxes.

Pro forma

The Amphitheater Unified School District Governing Board has just routine business on the agenda with one strange asterisk.

School districts are allowed sole source vendors (meaning, they aren't put out to bid) for some specific services.

The Amphi board will vote to make Google one of them. So Bing is, once again, screwed. 

I don't know, it just seems weird that they'd have to specify that Google is a vendor, rather than just a constant and looming presence.

All the Sahuarita Unified School District is doing is voting on pro-forma items. School board meetings are dominated by things like "voucher accounts," accepting teacher resignations, approving leaves of absence, giving go aheads to sales of excess property, student recognitions and other measures spelled out in state law.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist, who worked in daily journalism for nearly 25 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party.


The Tucson agenda 

Public meetings around Tucson the week of Sept. 11:

Sahuarita Town Council 

Tucson City Council

Tucson Unified School District Governing Board

Amphitheater Unified School District Governing Board

Nogales City Council

Flowing Wells Unified School District Governing Board

Marana Town Council

Catalina Foothills Unified School District Governing Board

Vail Unified School District Governing Board

Sahuarita Unified School District Governing Board

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