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Tucson stumped by 'Before-After Paradigm'

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What the Devil won't tell you

Tucson stumped by 'Before-After Paradigm'

Officials illegally send out election material in wrong order, leaving open court challenge

  • Mark Ulm/John C. Scott Show

Well, city honchos almost made it a month without having to mutter to one another, “Do you think anyone will notice?”

Turns out, yes 60,000 bus riders per day did notice they couldn't get around town during a Sun Tran strike this summer. The City Council said it was helpless to end the strike until it did just that. Now, city voters got sent early ballots prior to receiving voter guides explaining changes to the City Charter and an initiative that would ban photo radar at red lights. Talk about stop means go — voters got their election material in the wrong order.

State law requires voters be sent publicity pamphlets including arguments about ballot propositions before they're sent early ballots. Early voting started Oct. 8. According to the city, voter guides were sent to the post office for their carriers' appointed rounds this week. Oops.

See, the point of voting guides is to enable voters to make informed decisions. It helps for them to have the elections pamphlet in hand prior to the start of early voting. This is one state mandate that sorta makes sense.

If the city fails to do that, state law requires officials to send out a notice, with the ballots, saying when the information will arrive in voters' mailboxes. Seeing as the city still isn't quite sure when that will happen, they goofed there, too.

Now the election on those issues can be challenged ahead of time. We can't even forecast what might happen were that to take place: the Arizona Supreme Court has previously left open the possibility of invalidating an election on a city charter amendment because of a failure to mail publicity pamphlets in a timely manner. Would a judge call of the election on those questions? Would it be pushed back? We don't know, and won't unless someone tosses a legal monkey wrench into the works.

Nobody's ever jacked things up like this before.




This move is so unprecedented that in the vast annals of Arizona legal decisions, there doesn't seem to be a case that completely covers the questions that might be raised.

Unlike the business world, shit in government only rolls down hill for 20 of 24 months. Leading up to an election, it reverses course. Elected leaders get held accountable for what their staff screws up.

How much fate must you tempt, councilmembers? The bus strike and bad economic news are one thing. Should voters head to the polls on 17th day of November, they may pause to ponder why they aren't they voting on that hallowed Tuesday, like real Americans. Why is that? Right! The city fucked up royally. Who's in charge over there? Wouldn't want to vote for them.

That which follows a preceding event

I'm just gobsmacked (maybe I shouldn't be) because this isn't figuring out how to get good jobs to move or grow here in Tucson. This isn't negotiating legalese regarding a bus strike. This isn't a series of redevelopment projects downtown under the flag of Rio Nuevo. This is simply negotiating the concepts Grover taught us on Sesame Street.

Over here you have “before,” meaning a time that precedes a following event. Over there you have “after,” also known as the moment that follows a situation that preceded it. Before. After. Before. After.

I'll make it easier on you city of Tucson. If you tell your kids, "no dessert until after you eat your vegetables" and the kids are wolfing down pie with their green beans untouched, the Before-After Paradigm has been violated. Let's drill down further through the weedy complexities. When your child is eating that pie with the beans still on the plate, they are eating their pie before they eat their vegetables. 

At first it seems like you need a Hadron collider to figure this out but it's actually simple: Before comes prior to after.

So, when the city admits the ballots went out first, it's like the kid saying, "Gee ma, the fork just stabbed into the pie."

The law says you send out voting guides before you send out ballots. Clearly, they went out after — so we again have a problem with the Before-After Paradigm.

You know the voter guides have to go out prior to the ballots being received. You know early voting starts Oct. 8. The time to start asking questions of your printer is not Oct. 9, or the 15th. The time to harangue the printer is (yes) way before Oct. 7.

Not theoretical physics





It doesn't require slamming subatomic particles into one another at .999 times the speed of light to sleuth the mystery. It won't take an internal investigation to figure out who is to blame. The City Clerk's Office should have some passing knowledge of state elections law. The voter guides needed to go to the printer in early September. If they didn't, someone should ask why, when and how fast they can be printed and mailed. If the printer can't make the deadline, pay someone a premium to get the job done.

A change order is preferable to presenting the appearance that the city has a tough time figuring out prepositions. Prepositions like “over” and “through," take on a foreboding entendre for those trying to keep their jobs in the wake of this mess.

It's entirely possible that at the bottom of this fiasco is a kid at the print shop who got confused by what goes out when. Maybe, just maybe ask yourself, city folks, “Did I get my voter guide in my mailbox?”

There was the printer, see ... it's not our fault!

The city has reasons — multiple reasons — this happened. They are blaming the printer, who ran off the voter guides on the press. Councilman Steve Kozachick said he was told by City Clerk Roger Randolph that the pamphlets were being mailed out Friday, Oct. 16. A city spokeswoman said the printer vouched that they were mailed on Oct. 12, 14 and 15. 

Uh, not so fast ... Randolph said the city provided the "final artwork" Sept. 23, which is 15 days prior to the start of early voting, but that's not the law. The law says the guides must be sent before early ballots start arriving in mailboxes. The vendors hired by the city didn't get that done.

For starters, they were waiting on the freaking art work? Who's the artist? The ghost of Jackson Pollack? He couldn't find inspiration until Sept. 22? The city's deadline for people to submit arguments was Aug. 5. It's a damn voter guide. Stick figures next to a kindergarten saguaro would do the trick.

Second, even if the city had dropped the pamphlets off to the printers on Sept. 23, someone should ask questions if they haven't been dropped at the post office a week later. If they're still not in mailboxes on Oct. 6, you raise a ruckus (yes, a ruckus). If Oct. 7 comes around and it's still not done, you send a city employee to the printer or the mailing service or whoever has the piles of paper at that point, have them whip out a bullhorn and tell that vendor not to return without a postage receipt.

How about the city have a policy of mailing the guides a week before early ballots are sent? Would that be so hard?

Instead the city shrugged until mid-October, vowing to get to the bottom of the situation and maybe even get a discount. Gee, why not go for a free sundae at Baskin-Robbins?

Seriously... the voter guides needed to be timed to show up with the ballots.

On early birds and procrastinators

Early voters fall into two camps and I'm not talking Democrats and Republicans. I'm talking about procrastinators and rise-and-shiners. The bright-eyed and bushy-tailed get the ballots and send them right back. A bunch of the ballots traditionally come back fast. Then they slow down. Finally there's a second bunch who put it off for either righteous or lazy reasons — maybe righteously lazy reasons. 

The rise-and-shiners voted based on limited information because they didn't have the guides that explain the ballot question in non-legalese, while providing argument for the pro and the con submitted by anyone who will pay for the privilege. Sometimes voters are helped knowing who is for something and who is against it. The early birds were denied that legally prescribed luxury. So, maybe armed with more information, they'd have voted the other way.

That there is actionable, allowing a party to sue. I cannot fathom a judge telling the city to push back the election, or calling it off after activists spent two years gathering signatures on petitions. Then again, I can't imagine college-educated city administrators forgetting lessons we learned from Muppets.

Why subject the city to legal liability when it's as simple as before and after? Send out the voting guides. Then send out the ballots. Socks first. Shoes second. Take off first. Then land. Peanut butter first. Then the milk. These are the immutable laws of nature.

Advice to Mike Ortega

The city of Tucson has a problem and has had a problem. It's stuff like this. Month after month, year after year the city of Tucson can seem flummoxed by complexity if there is a single variable. “2X = 4? We better get stakeholder buy-in and ask the city attorney....” They're bewildered by the detail because they are sick of being accused of “stepping in it.” Be it bus strikes, charter changes, pot holes, rainbow bridges or lousy jobs christened as economic development, the council has a reputation for “stepping in it” like a Kansas rancher raising beef cattle. 

Councilmembers, you even get blamed for stepping in it when you don't step in it. 

No, not every incentive for downtown development is a sweetheart deal. Not every budget deficit is fiscal malfeasance. Not every email chain is a violation of the open meeting law. All rainbow bridges over U.S. interstates are stupid. Yes, I know that was back when the GOP held a governing majority but you are paying for sins of councils past. It sucks. It's life in politics. It's like “we don't want the federal government involved in health care, when it can't even respond to Hurricane Katrina.”

For some reason, Pima County government doesn't have these problems — or folks over there are just better at getting past it (or they just blame the city).

By all accounts, the new City Manager Mike Ortega is a genuine pro. He could be just what the city needs but he needs time to get a handle on the bureaucracy. I will give you a hint, Mike, for the time being end every phone call to an department head like this: 

Ortega: “Well that oughta cover it. Now There's nothing I need to know about? Nothing is going to blow up tomorrow?”

Department head: "All is quiet out here."

Ortega: "Are you sure? Nothing is going to kill us tomorrow?"

Department head: "No, no — just, well, there is a zombie army at Houghton and Broadway. I sent a memo to the city attorney ..."

Ortega: "Is it moving east or west?"

Department head: "I probably should have asked, huh?"

In the meantime the staff is making your bosses look bad. That makes Tucson look bad. When Tucson looks bad, Phoenix looks good. We don't need a voter guide to tell us that's just wrong.

Once more: Before, after. Seriously.

Blake Morlock covered Arizona government and politics for 15 years, including 11 in the Tucson Citizen. He also worked on Democratic Party campaigns in the field of political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.

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