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Constable crisis mounts for Pima County; poverty-fighting plans take center stage

The Tucson Agenda

Constable crisis mounts for Pima County; poverty-fighting plans take center stage

Plus more in local gov't meetings this week

  • Pima County Supervisors are accepting another constables resignation.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comPima County Supervisors are accepting another constables resignation.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors has a problem with the constabulary.

Another constable is resigning. The county is still looking for replacements to Michael Stevenson, who retired just a few weeks ago, and Deborah Martinez-Garibay, who was killed while serving an eviction notice.

Precinct 1 Constable John Dorer gave his two weeks notice on Oct. 21, so he's done at the end of the week. 

Of the 10 county constables, 8 serve the metro Tucson and three of the positions will now be vacant. Other constables just aren't showing up for work.

Constables serve court notices and are required by state law, so the county can't just rework the program. They have to have them. They are losing them.

Something has to happen. What? Pfff. I have no idea. Do what the ancient Athenians did and just draw from a lot. It will be like jury duty, but those selected will get a badge. 

The job pays at $67,000. That's not bad for Tucson, but it's dangerous work and difficult to do well.

Poverty planning

Less acutely, more chronically and just as importantly, supervisors are continuing their headlong drive into fighting poverty.

The board is set to vote Tuesday on moving toward a policy that will drive programs established to fight the hard realities of not having enough money to meet basic needs.

The county is attacking this issue systematically. Boy, is attacking systematically.

The plan is to establish a regional prosperity task force to dig into the matter. 

The new task force isn't to be confused with the Housing Commission recommended by a housing task force and approved by the Board of Supervisors. Was this plan signed off on by policy strike team, working under a blue-ribbon panel, as established by a council of elders?

County Administrator Jan Lesher wrote in a memo to the Board of Supervisors about the importance of first making a policy and adopting the programs and actions later.

But sometimes the policies come as the effort is engaged and the realities start piling up that need addressing.

And how hard is it to come up with a policy? "We don't like poverty, do something about it." Then over beers one night, come up with the five things that need to be done immediately. That work will reveal the ten things that need to be done next. 

It is important to study a problem, but the county has people in its employ to do that. 

People like Bonnie Bozata, the county's Ending Poverty Now coordinator. She addressed the Tucson City Council in April, and they voted "hey, let's start a task force."

It's taken the county more than six months to take the vote to establish the force, which will wrap up its work in May.

Obviously, Lesher's instincts are good to do go into action with a plan but I'm going to goose them along. But the county can also get to work with a broad strategy that is honed through the work and real-time oversight.

People are having trouble making their budgets work right now.

Budgets and elections

Lesher is also poking the board along on a pretty smart initiative to include the Board of Supervisors at the front end of the budget process and avoid surprises by her five bosses later in the fiscal year.

Supervisor Matt Heinz is taking full advantage with $73 million in requests to pay for affordable housing, capital investment and early childhood education.

Supervisor Adelita Grijalva also has a bunch of policy proposals without dollar amounts attached. 

Heinz is also asking his colleagues to take a whack at the Regional Transportation Authority. He wants a full financial and legal review of the 1/2-cent, 20-year 2006 package.

Heinz is also insisting that a complete performance review be conducted on the work of RTA and Pima Association of Government Executive Director Farhad Moghini. The PAG Regional Council agreed to do a review of Moghini by the end of the year but Heinz says that's yet to be done.

He also wants to know what county projects promised in the 2006 RTA vote won't be completed and what to do about it.

All these suggestions are fine, I guess, but is there a compelling need to do any of them? Taken together, they almost reads like a declaration of war on the RTA. 

The city has been messing with the RTA. Now Heinz is trying to get in his shots.

I suppose the county could try to pursue its transportation needs alone. It's the one jurisdiction to govern all within the RTA's boundaries. 

However, Pima County doesn't have what one would call a "good recent track record" of getting voters to approve their stand-alone ballot initiatives.

And as long as the Legislature is Republican, the smaller and rural jurisdictions will be calling the shots with an RTA Next plan expected to be put before voters in the next couple years.

Supervisors are also going to vote to up the pay for election workers to find more of them.

It takes 1,198 clerks, judges, inspectors and marshals found from members of the community to staff an election. They make between $155 and $200.

The county has had trouble finding Republicans to fill the roles, especially in Sells at the Tohono O'odham tribal community.

The request is for $75 for each poll worker and an additional $25 for each day of training, plus an extra $75 for remote poll workers.

The supes will also vote on a contract of $1.5 million to provide for COVID-19 among the community's refugee population. The money comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Down on the border

Santa Cruz County supervisors will also be voting on a coronavirus contract to fill out the health department's medical response corps. 

The $75,000 to pay for the program comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Arizona Department of Health Services.

It may seem late in the game to get on coronavirus but just because the culture has grown bored with the virus doesn't mean the virus has grown bored of the people. It's also a smart move to know what it takes to stand up a medical reserve corps.

The board will also vote to accept a $300,000 state Heritage Fund grant to fix the dome of the historic courthouse. The courthouse was built in 1904 and needs work. The repairs are expected to last another 100 years.

The Nogales City Council has a light really light agenda that is just approving what looks like a small consent calendar.

One of those items is a contract with the Governor's Office of Highway Safety to pay for $4,000 in over time and provide a breath test device for another $12,850.

It's accompanied by 52 pages of paperwork, including correspondence, applications amendments, staff reports and the contract. 

Is there maybe a way to streamline this? 

There is no blue ribbon commission, so Nogales has that going for it.

Vail hustle

Meanwhile the Vail Unified School District vote to continue it's "Beyond Textbooks" side hustle.

And I don't mean side hustle in a bad way. The district has this program it developed back when it was establishing itself as a leader in Arizona education. They've figured out how to market/spread the lessons they've learned for a price.

The deal now under consideration is with the Dine Dream Charter School in Shiprock, N.M. The $6,500 (base charge) the district would collect from the deal goes back into developing the Beyond Textbooks model.

The agreement was reached with 9 pages of attached material.

A personal note on a bad idea

The Vail Unified School District Governing Board will vote on a new school policy on how to deal with tragedies. And in 2022, we know the kinds of things that qualify.

The district updates its policy on this every year and the changes this year are minor. The district won't designate a spokesman to deal with the media if something catastrophic happens. The job automatically will go to the communications director. 

It's that kind of change.

One thing not changing in the policy is that no school memorial service will be given to a suicide victim or for a student who dies of a drug-related problem.

I get the suicide. It can lead to copycatting, maybe. 

A kid who dies of a drug overdose can be properly mourned at the school without condoning the behavior that lead to the death.

When I was in high school, a guy I knew since I was in third grade and a girl I knew since I was four were killed in a car accident two weeks before the class of 1986 was set to graduate.

Kent, the driver, tried to pass a school bus carrying the lacrosse team to a game. He crossed the double yellow line and smashed head-on into a car in the oncoming lane. 

He also had a beer open. 

It never occurred to us not to have a memorial service. No one thought what Kent did was anything other than stupid. It killed Pam, literally, my oldest friend. 

None of us thought that was the sum total of his existential worth. We didn't judge him for his final act. We were devastated by losing a friend we all grew up with.

Also, it's a real wallop to the entire ideation of youth the first time that a kid deals with the death of a peer. It's like, you are going to go on through life and have kids and a career and a family. That friend is never going to be a day older than his last moment on Earth. 

Yes, death can come for the young, too.  It's not just a thing for people over 30.

It was important for all of us to have a service where we all mourned them. So we did. It was on the hill that ran the length of the football field. It was where the students watched the games. It was at night. It was candle-lit. The Eagles' "Wasted Years" played on a stereo.

I still remember Rick, a junior high tough guy turned high school nice guy, sobbing into my shoulder. It was cathartic. That kind of thing was necessary and it helped.

We all didn't decide to go do blind passes across double yellow lines with open containers because we were allowed to use school facilities for a memorial service. 

It was a chance for me to remember splashing in a blowup kiddie pool with Pam when we were pre-schoolers or playing dodgeball with Kent when we were 11 because he had a hell of an arm. We were doing it together as the other kids at the high school dealt with their memories too. 

We grieved the loss at a school event because the school was the center of our lives. It was our social and developmental touchstone. It was a place the survivors went and were not alone. 

Maybe there's some research on it but to not do that for the survivors because the departed ODed on Fentanyl is effing nuts.

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.

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