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Flashes

Anchor Steamy, the Sequel
Here's a hot VCR alert for all you Jineane Ford fans out there. Just weeks after The Flash printed revealing shots of the Channel 12 anchor as she appeared in the 1983 drive-in flick Chattanooga Choo Choo, rival station KPHO Channel 5 will air the movie in its entirety this Saturday night at 11:05.

Although KPHO had scheduled the movie long before The Flash exposed Ford's bimbo-movie past and has no special plans to promote it, KPHO shouldn't be surprised if ratings go right through the roof. Why? When video clips of young Jineane's Choo Choo striptease appeared in this paper's online edition (www.phoenixnewtimes.com), more than 4,000 viewed and/or downloaded the scintillating snippets. Back to you, Jineane . . .

She's No Woodward
Admitting that hers was the last major American paper not to do a feature on Sheriff Joke Arpaio, Washington Post reporter Sue Anne Pressley contacted New Times recently to ask about the Crime Avenger.

In town waiting for a verdict in the Fifester's trial, Pressley saw in the Sher a way to salvage a wasted week. So she arranged for a jail visit and a sit-down with the Joke. She also bothered to ask about NT's reporting on Arpaio, which led The Flash to believe the Post, known for its uncompromising treatment of Beltway politicos, might actually examine Arpaio's record.

No such luck. If Sue Anne had been on the Watergate story, it would've been spot news.

Her standard drive-by treatment of pink underwear and green bologna and golly-gee isn't he a character appeared on the Post's August 25 front page.

Like just about every other news organization that has seen in Arpaio fodder for an entertaining -- and easy -- article, Pressley presented the debate over Arpaio in just the terms he likes: tough approaches to criminals versus bleeding-heart ideas about rehabilitation.

Sue Anne missed the parts about how the Joke's biggest critics are his own employees; that law enforcers across the state consider the sheriff a laughingstock; that Arpaio's grandstanding in Phoenix jeopardizes policing in unincorporated areas; that "free" programs like the posse actually waste millions; that the county's jails -- where most inmates are presumed innocent while they await trial -- are subject to a proven pattern of torture and medical neglect, leaving the county open to liability suits; that Arpaio's paranoid fear of leaks has decimated much of his senior patrol staff; that a state auditor confirmed the New Times discovery that the sheriff misused more than $200,000 of taxpayer money; that his office refuses to turn over posse financial records and investigative reports of jail crimes; that information uncovered by the Joke's own investigators suggests Scott Norberg was murdered.

But, hey, details are hard.
On the other hand, the liberaleasternmediaelite probably considers the Joke a natural by-product of our backward ways. After all, the criminal trial of a sitting governor for 21 counts of fraud and extortion has hardly raised an eyebrow east of the Pecos.

Fallon Your Sword
The Flash has always been a sucker for underdogs.
Here in the Valley, no one fits that description better than the ragtag group of Libertarians and fringe Republicans opposed to Phoenix's plan to raise the sales tax to fund mass-transit improvements.

Sure, opponents' arguments against the half-cent tax sound a bit shrill. But, dammit, at least they care, and they deserve a fair shot at voicing their opposition.

Unfortunately, the city has substantially denied opponents that right--a right guaranteed them under the city's own election rules.

At issue is the voter information guide produced by the city and mailed to the homes of prospective voters. By law, the guide, which carries arguments submitted by both the initiative's detractors and backers, must be mailed to voters no less than eight days before they cast their ballots.

Here's the catch: This year, more than 42,000 voters--half the number that voted in the last citywide election--requested absentee, also known as "early," ballots.

Those ballots will start arriving in voters' homes three days before the pamphlets.

"What's the purpose of the pamphlet if it shows up after people send in their ballots?" asks Gary Fallon, who leads one of the groups opposed to the tax.

Fallon points out that for shoestring groups like his, the pamphlets represent their best hope of spreading the word.

The discrepancy has caused no heartburn at City Hall, where everyone is bus-tling to get the tax passed.

So Fallon has had to take his fight to Maricopa County Superior Court, where he filed suit on August 15 seeking to have the early ballots thrown out. No hearing has been set.

"We think we have a good case," says Fallon, though he admits he doesn't expect any judge to take the drastic step of nullifying the election results.

 

"He'll probably just say, 'Well, you've got a point. Let's just make sure it doesn't happen again,'" Fallon says. "Of course, that won't help us much."

It's not easy being the underdog. They're often run over by buses.

Group Dysfunction
The health-insurance company Intergroup is selling itself with a new motto on TV ads: "Intergroup treats you like family--always has, always will."

Unfortunately for Intergroup, the Arizona attorney general found the state Department of Administration was a little too familiar when DOA awarded the insurer the contract to provide indemnity coverage to state employees. Suzanne Dallimore, chief of the AG's antitrust unit, said DOA benefits manager Mary Ann Knight had a conflict of interest in making key decisions about the bid process. Knight is married to an Intergroup executive.

State employees protested the award to Intergroup, citing the firm's troubled history, which includes the largest fine ever levied on a state insurance provider for poor performance. Intergroup failed to disclose the fine, as well as other complaints about service, on its bid for the state contract. Doctors are also leaving Intergroup in significant numbers ("Intergroupies," Chris Farnsworth, June 10).

The state employees had threatened to sue if Intergroup retained the contract.

The Department of Administration--which called allegations of a conflict of interest "bullshit"--is now faced with the possibility that the entire contract for HMO and indemnity coverage for state employees will have to be put out for bid again.

"The bid process for HMOs is just as tainted as the bids for indemnity coverage," Jacqueline Sharkey, a University of Arizona professor who led the protest, said.

All of which should make for some interesting conversation around the dinner table of the big, happy Intergroup family.

Ka-Ching!
Despite some tough talk, Maricopa County has offered $755,000 as a settlement to S.K. Ching and his partners after last year's unsuccessful attempt to privatize the county's health system.

Ching, the California businessman many observers thought would walk away with the county hospital in his pocket, ended up $17.8 million in the hole from costs incurred in gearing up for the transition, according to the claim he filed with the county in February. Ching's partners, Healthcare Providers, Inc., and MedPro, filed their own claims for $2.5 million and $600,000, respectively. After haggling for nine months, the deal fell apart last December, when county representatives withdrew from negotiations and terminated the request for proposal.

Two months ago, the chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors started a fight song about Ching's chances of seeing any of the county's cash. "He figures because it's the county and it's a deep pocket, he's going to bully his way into some big gold mine," Tom Stapley told the Arizona Business Gazette. "And it's just not going to happen."

But in a closed-door executive session just a few days later, the board hummed a different tune--"Pennies From Heaven." The supervisors approved a $755,000 settlement: $155,000 to S.K. Ching, and $600,000 to HPI and MedPro. Ching and his partners haven't yet accepted the offer.

Ching and HPI argued that the county negotiated in bad faith, and exhibit A in their case was former Maricopa CFO Deborah Larson's sharp tongue.

"Based upon well-publicized e-mail of the former Chief Financial Officer of the County, it is apparent that the County's chief administrative officer [David Smith] was not working toward a mutually-satisfactory agreement with HPI," Kevin Tourek, attorney for HPI, wrote in a letter to the county.

Tourek's letter to the county also charges that county administrator David Smith, ". . . whom HPI was led to believe was the county's chief negotiator, seldom, if ever, attended a single negotiating session with HPI officials." Tourek also wrote that county staff "manufactured weekly obstacles to closing the transaction" and "may have . . . inappropriately pressured" members of the Board of Supervisors.

"Certain county employees, for whatever reasons, took steps to defeat the transaction," Tourek said.

Larson generated literally hundreds of pages of e-mail every day. The most telling are to her trusted subordinate, environmental-liabilities manager Roland Bergen. Larson and Bergen even had nicknames for one another in these digital chats: Bergen was "Brutus Buckeye," for Ohio State's mascot, and Larson was "Wolfgang Wolverino," for her alma mater, the University of Michigan.

The notes, obtained by New Times, include a mix of office gossip, workday bitching and serious county business, such as the negotiations with Ching.

"The heat is on to keep dealing with this pathetically puny firm to hand off a dying $550 million operation to them. I have not been sleeping well to say the least," Larson wrote to Bergen on July 17, 1996.

 

At times, Larson couldn't even stand the sight of Ching: "Ching comes back tomorrow," she wrote Bergen July 22. "He has pushed us over the edge so much that I am having a hard time imagining that I can even walk into that room and look at him."

Maricopa County also paid private detectives to investigate Ching, the e-mails show--and took steps to keep the bills off the public record.

A private attorney for the county e-mailed Roland Bergen on September 11, 1996, about the billing for the detectives: "I am reviewing our August invoice and it shows $723.56 paid to two investigators for the Ching investigation," attorney Van Wolf wrote. "The bills go to [deputy county attorney John] Paulsen and he requires full back-up. Do you want this included in our bill or is there another way it can be paid?"

"Send this bill directly to me," Bergen responded.
Apparently, whatever the county's detectives dug up on Ching wasn't enough to negate a payoff.

Feed The Flash: voice, 229-8486; fax, 340-8806; online, flash@newtimes.com


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