What's Eating Crow?

Our eagle-eyed scribbler talons Commander Crow, the Dalai Lama's merchandisers, columnist Jon Talton and the artful Phoenix City Council

Getting Our Phil

The Bird loves Jon Talton. In fact, this owlish beaker can't figure out how Talton gets away with writing such a coherent, entertaining public policy column in the Arizona Republic. Perhaps Talton's editors don't read his copy, and therefore don't realize he's not keeping up the snooze-inducing standards of that newspaper, which The Bird often lines its cage with.

Too bad Talton was a no-show at a recent speaking engagement where he planned to dish the downtown dirt on the "dynamics of the downtown Phoenix transformation." Sounding more like Norma Shearer than a daily news columnist, Talton told The Bird that he skipped his appearance at something called the Phoenix AM Breakfast Discussion Series because he "had the most ghastly stomach flu!"

Talton's replacement? Mayor Phil Gordon. Which The Bird finds hilarious, and not only because Gordon advocates the city's "If you build it, they will come" view of downtown reclamation, while Talton campaigns for a more cautionary approach to same. (So much for checks and balances.)

"Look, you know, as a politician, he has to put as positive a face as he can on things," Talton tweeted about Mayor Phil. "And I think he absolutely gets what we need to do downtown. [But] government is not particularly good at either creating inspiring architecture or the fine-grained human connectivity that make a downtown delightful."

Fine-grained human connectivity?! Never mind.

So how come Talton recently wrote that Gordon is "one of the few denizens of City Hall who 'gets' urban," a dubious opinion considering Phil was quoted on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ-FM last week as saying graffiti is "psychologically damaging." Find The Bird a city where "urban" doesn't include gangsta tagging, and it will quit squawking on the subject. Apparently, despite Talton's pro-Phil huckstering, the good mayor is planning a downtown renovation that's urban but not messed up by evidence of urban brown-skinned people. Can't wait to see how he pulls that off -- round-the-clock graffiti spies? Twenty-four-hour repainting crews?

Talton stands by his man, telling The Bird that Phil was a perfect replacement. "It was no conspiracy; it was no breach of protocol. If Phil and I were in cahoots, that might be another matter."

Okay. But if Phil and Talton aren't "in cahoots" (The Bird really likes the sound of that word), how come Talton is asking Phil's people for permission to present the politician in the best possible light regarding recent police-inspection troubles in the downtown arts district known as Roosevelt Row?

In an August 8 e-mail to Ed Zuercher, Phil's senior deputy chief of staff, Talton wrote, "Can you give me any 'tone help' for a column I am working on? Don't want to beat up the city. But also don't want to see Roosevelt Row crushed." To which Zuercher replied, "As far as tone . . . we have to work hard to rebuild trust now."

You certainly do, Jonny.

Just Plane Artsy

What do you do if you want to buy $9 million worth of old military airplanes, but you don't have an extra $9 million lying around?

If you're the Phoenix City Council, you just call the planes "art."

Since 1987, The Bird discovered, the city's earmarked a whopping 1 percent of all new capital-improvement-project money for public art. A group of wanna-be docents calling itself the Phoenix Arts and Culture Commission picks the projects and the artists meant to spruce up our fair city -- which, because we're talking about 1 percent of the capital improvements budget, usually buys stuff made from old shoestrings and used plastic spoons.

Anyhow, no matter how cool a bunch of old planes may be, they're not likely to catch the eye of an Arts Commission. Especially when they cost $9 million. Which might explain how Councilman Dave Siebert got the bright idea of starting an Aviation Museum at Sky Harbor Airport. And why, when he decided that the percent-for-art budget was an easy source of money, he sidestepped the Commission entirely.

In April, the City Council transportation committee quietly gave the idea of using percent-for-art money to buy the planes a preliminary okay. A few months later, the Aviation Department hired a consultant with that same money, inking a contract for just under $40,000, because anything higher than that requires full City Council approval.

And last week, faster than The Bird could say "pandering to veterans," the four transportation committee members unanimously voted to move the plan forward. Now they're hiring an appraiser and getting ready to buy a bunch of rusted-out dive-bombers.

This is wacky shit, even for Phoenix.

And while this feathered fiend loves anything with wings, it's hard to imagine that art or airplane fans will deal with the rigors of airport parking to get to a museum. Fact is, museums have hardly been an easy sell in the Valley; just two years ago, Mesa's 22-year-old Champlin Fighter Museum closed its doors and shipped its planes to Seattle, citing poor attendance.

But here's the real question: Why did council members authorize using our already-limited arts money for such an airheaded project?

Susan Copeland, a member of the arts commission, thinks she has the answer: Because they can.

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