Turn Up the Heat

Napolitano should get behind the state's new fire marshal and force Tent City's closure

When was the last time you told a Court of Appeals judge to shove it?

Arpaio's arrogance and reckless disregard for the law sends a powerful signal to his employees, many of whom take great delight in humiliating and threatening inmates and even their visitors.

Governor Janet Napolitano could put a stop to the Tent City outrage by ordering her newly appointed fire marshal, Bob Barger, to reject Arpaio's pending request for a variance to keep the tents open.

Unfastened conduit extends towards an overhead light fixture attached to the inside roof of a tent.  The conduit is supposed to be fastened to tent poles and extended completely to the light fixture. Instead, exposed electrical wire extends from the conduit and is stretched past the vertical support pole before improperly connecting to the light fixture (extreme left).
Unfastened conduit extends towards an overhead light fixture attached to the inside roof of a tent. The conduit is supposed to be fastened to tent poles and extended completely to the light fixture. Instead, exposed electrical wire extends from the conduit and is stretched past the vertical support pole before improperly connecting to the light fixture (extreme left).
Exposed wire runs into the overhead light fixture. The 
wire is supposed to be enclosed in conduit. Inmates say they see sparks from exposed electrical wires when they become wet from heavy rains.
Exposed wire runs into the overhead light fixture. The wire is supposed to be enclosed in conduit. Inmates say they see sparks from exposed electrical wires when they become wet from heavy rains.
Exposed electrical wire extends from conduit that is not 
properly fastened to tent supports. The electric wires 
stretch across the cement floor and lead to an unsealed 
electrical outlet. An extension cord is also attached to 
the box and runs across the floor that is often soaked 
from rain.
Exposed electrical wire extends from conduit that is not properly fastened to tent supports. The electric wires stretch across the cement floor and lead to an unsealed electrical outlet. An extension cord is also attached to the box and runs across the floor that is often soaked from rain.
Conduit secured only by a rope (far left) hangs just a few 
feet above the top bunks inside one of the tents. The 
unsecured conduit could be pulled from the overhead 
light, exposing inmates to live electrical wires.
Conduit secured only by a rope (far left) hangs just a few feet above the top bunks inside one of the tents. The unsecured conduit could be pulled from the overhead light, exposing inmates to live electrical wires.

Napolitano could prove that she's more than a self-absorbed career bureaucrat worried that she must keep her head down so she can hang on to her current job for another term, or move on to something even more high-profile.

If Napolitano truly had the right stuff of courageous leaders, she would stare down Arpaio by putting a stop to his Tent City antic. For a politician worried about her career, there's nothing to lose anymore: Joe's demented regime has become the laughingstock of law enforcement across the state, and even Republican party bigwigs hate the blowhard's guts.

I'm saying that when the vast majority of the state's cops and powerful GOP officials -- hardly a bunch of liberal pantywaists -- come out strongly against one of their own, there's political capital to be gained by dashing Arpaio's delusion of grandeur and forcing him to close a facility that can never meet basic fire code regs.

Soon, there should be no need for Tent City. Taxpayers spent a whopping $500 million for two state-of-the-art jails that would be ready to go except for one giant problem.

Arpaio hasn't hired the 1,000 guards necessary to open the 3,200-bed facilities.

Even though he's had seven years to do it.

Somebody -- the governor, the county supervisors -- should tell him to get off his wrinkled ass and hire these detention officers pronto, because Tent City will be phased out because it cannot live up to minimum safety standards.

It's obvious Arpaio is dragging his feet in staffing the new jails. Why would he want to close his filthy Tent City gulag after it has made him a worldwide celebrity?

Arpaio knows he can always generate overcrowding in the jail system with haphazard roundups of deadbeat parents and prostitutes. If he really needs prisoners to prove his point that Tent City is still needed, he could even pull tens of thousands of warrants out of file cabinets and have his deputies sweep through poor neighborhoods.

In other words, he wouldn't be above phonying things up. He couldn't care less how much it costs taxpayers.

As a former U.S. attorney for Arizona and former Arizona attorney general, Napolitano must know that Arpaio uses Tent City to purposely violate the constitutional rights of Arizona's citizens in a crass grab for political power.

Such vulgarities are the hallmark of dictators.

Napolitano ducked my recent question about the future of Tent City during her weekly press conference, passing the buck to her newly appointed fire marshal to decide whether to issue another variance to keep Tent City open.

"The fire marshal can take a look at all the evidence, all the facts, and make a . . . determination," she said. The governor doesn't like to be asked tough questions at her weekly love fest with the daily media.

The trouble is, Bob Barger has been in office only six weeks and is still awaiting Senate confirmation. He's not going to declare war on Arpaio without Napolitano's blessing.

Barger tells me he hopes ongoing discussions with the sheriff's office will lead to a timetable for transitioning inmates out of Tent City and into the new jails.

"How long do you keep granting variances to the fire code?" says Barger, who made it clear to me that 12 years is long enough.

But Barger's engaging in wishful thinking if he believes Arpaio will voluntarily phase out the tents. The hammer will have to come down or Outlaw Joe will never budge.

It's clear that Barger wants to do the right thing. He wants to do his job, which is to ensure the safety of Arizona's citizenry, even if they are inmates in Arpaio's lockups. What the governor must do now is stop going against the wishes of her bedrock constituency of progressives and stand up to Outlaw Joe. She must back her fire marshal's clear belief that Tent City's an anachronism.

There's no percentage for her in staying out of it this time.

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