This wacky warbler has but one wish for the New Year. No, not peace on Earth. Not for a gazillion-dollar Powerball win. Not even to awaken one day on a tropical island next to a bikini-clad Kate Winslet and a nearby shipwreck full of the good ganja.
Nah, what The Bird longs for most in 2009 is an end to photo enforcement's Stalinist grip on Arizona's roadways. Initially, this seemed a lost cause. Outgoing Governor Janet Napolitano had sold the state's freeways kit and caboodle to the Australian company Redflex, with which the Arizona Department of Public Safety has its contract. Our beloved Sand Land had thereby fallen under Redflex's all-seeing Mordor-like eye.
Enter the Bird's new hero, Paul Babeu, the newly elected sheriff of Pinal County and the first-ever Republican to hold that position. This November, Babeu defeated incumbent Democrat Chris Vasquez, campaigning on a platform that included an end to the county's contract with Redflex. And by the time he was sworn in on January 2, Babeu had informed Redflex that the Pinal County Sheriff's Office would no longer be signing off on the citations produced from the three photo-radar vans Redflex operated in the county. (The company has no stationary cameras in Pinal.)
"We have ended photo radar for speeding [in Pinal County]," the new sheriff told the anti-photo enforcement Web site CameraFraud.com in a YouTube video that made news across the state and beyond. "Photo radar's last days are now behind us, because they ended on the First of January."
The boldness of Babeu's move was that he had single-handedly ended the county's agreement with Redflex by refusing to participate in it. According to Babeu, Redflex cannot issue citations for Pinal without the sheriff's sign-off. So even though there's time left on Redflex's contract with Pinal, Babeu's put the kibosh on all future Redflex tickets.
(The three-member Pinal County Board of Supervisors was set to vote on sending a formal notice of termination to Redflex on January 7, which is after New Times goes to press.)
According to Pinal County Judge Dennis Lusk, whose court oversees such citations, there have been more than 7,000 Redflex tickets that have come through his court since the program began in 2007, and though Lusk would offer no opinion on Babeu's move, there have to be some in Pinal who'll be sad to see that revenue stream ended. Along those lines, Redflex flack Shoba Vaitheeswaran did not return this raven's repeated calls for comment.
As for the DPS, which separately from the Sheriff's Office oversees its own Redflex roving photo-enforcement vans in the county, Lieutenant James Warriner told The Bird that Babeu's move changes nothing for his department, insisting, "We will still be operating our cameras on state and federal highways as mandated by the governor and state legislators."
Babeu acknowledged that the DPS had the right to operate inside his county, but he deplored the "corrupting influence" of government entities partnering with private vendors like the Aussie firm Redflex, or its homegrown competitor American Traffic Solutions.
"It's almost Orwellian, taking out the human element," Babeu told The Bird, using idealistic language rarely heard from politicians these days. "This is the beauty of our republic, that we have real-life police officers or deputies that have discretion — discretion that is built into the law. When we take out that discretion, it's very clear to me that the whole reason behind this issue is money."
Babeu called on incoming Governor Jan Brewer to "do the right thing." By that, he means ending the state's partnership with Redflex and bringing down cameras that have been popping up all over like some evil weed. As for arguments by the DPS that photo enforcement decreases traffic fatalities, Babeu pointed to criticisms of recent DPS studies by AAA that suggested such findings might be flawed.
The straight-shooting new sheriff dismissed concerns that government needs the money from this revenue stream because of harsh economic times. It's unfair, Babeu suggested, for government to seek to balance its budget on the backs of citizens.
"Government has a responsibility, just like each of us," Babeu stressed, "to tighten its belt. Become more efficient. Set fiscal priorities . . . I have full faith in our new Legislature and our new governor. I think they should reject [photo enforcement] out of hand. This $100 million or whatever DPS is going to create for them is dirty money."
Anti-Babeu bloggers and other opponents have claimed that there's a bit of self-interest mixed in with Babeu's high-minded, libertarian rhetoric. They call Babeu an unrepentant speed demon and point to Redflex tickets that Babeu's received previously, one of which Babeu returned to Redflex, telling the company he wasn't the one driving and that the photo was so blurry the driver couldn't be made out.
Babeu admitted he'd had speeding tickets in his past, including a recent one in Scottsdale that he paid. He maintained that his position on photo enforcement has nothing to do with any traffic citations he's received. He noted legal problems inherent in Redflex citations:
"People have no obligation [concerning tickets mailed to them]," said Babeu. "Because it's not properly served. Unless somebody actually serves you, you can't lose your license, you can't get your license suspended, or anything like that."
Of course, you have to dodge the process server for four months, but if you make it past that marker, the citation's history.
Does the fact Babeu's gotten camera tickets invalidate his stance or make it less dramatic? Nah. After all, Redflex spokeswoman Vaitheeswaran caught a photo citation in late 2007, court records show, for speeding on Loop 101 at Shea Boulevard. Doesn't seem as if her support for her employer has flagged.
Despite his lead foot, Babeu could've cynically decided he'd rather his county have the loot Redflex generates. Instead, he told the Redflexers to go screw themselves.
FRANKIE THE SNITCH
Sure, everyone had Guadalupe Mayor Frankie Montiel figured for a kiss-ass, especially after his groveling performance before the Board of Supervisors back in September, when he called Sheriff Joe Arpaio's racial-profiling April raid on his little town "a good day for law enforcement." But a snitch, as well?
That's the way it reads in a series of e-mails recently acquired by The Bird from the town of Guadalupe through a public-records request. In one, dated November 18 from interim Town Manager Rosemary Arellano to Montiel, which Arellano cc'd to the entire town council, the manager recaps Montiel's unthinkable request that the MCSO conduct another saturation patrol like the one in April 2008 that turned Guadalupe upside-down and made the square-mile municipality ground zero in Arpaio's war against Hispanics.
In the e-mail, Arellano explains how Montiel handed her a memorandum on November 14, in which Montiel expressed his frustration with the number of day laborers "loitering" within city limits.
"You said that because of the increase in day laborers, possibly undocumented," reads Arellano's e-mail, "you find it necessary to have the sheriff schedule a saturation [patrol]. You said that it was a public safety issue for young women walking to and from their bus stops . . . and also because of the amount of loiterers which will bring down the sales tax revenue."
Arellano then states that Montiel said he wanted her to communicate the saturation patrol request to sheriff's Deputy Loren Gaytan, the MCSO's liaison to the town. She faxed Montiel's memo and instruction to the town's attorney, David Ledyard, who advised her "not to request this action unless all members of council have been notified and given the opportunity to voice their concerns."
Needless to say, the new saturation patrol never took place. One of the many ironies of the Montiel memo (obtained in The Bird's public-records request) is the mayor's concern over the effect all these "loitering" day laborers will have on the local economy.
Thing is, the greatest blow to Guadalupe's tiny economy came as a result of the sheriff's explosive, anti-immigrant sweep of the town. Merchants and townspeople tell The Bird that business has never been the same since scores of MCSO vehicles invaded the burg, pulling over just about every car in sight. Another such sweep could deal Guadalupe's fragile economy a death blow.
And that's not to mention the fear instilled in Guadalupe's citizenry by the MCSO sweep, in which plenty of regular, law-abiding Guadalupanos and passers-through were pulled over and cited for ridiculous violations, such as "improper use of horn," just so the MCSO could hunt for undocumented migrants. MCSO vehicles even menaced a confirmation ceremony for Catholic children presided over by Bishop Thomas Olmsted at Our Lady of Guadalupe on the second day of the sweep.
Just what's going on in Montiel's pea-brain that he'd want to bring more of Arpaio's wrath on the town? A town that protested Arpaio's presence, causing him to wash his hands of it. The sheriff ended the MCSO's $1.2 million law-enforcement contract with Guadalupe, and the county Board of Supervisors rubber-stamped his decision. Unless other arrangements are made, Guadalupe's 5,500 souls will be without law enforcement come March.
After The Bird called Montiel to find out what he was thinking, the mayor ultimately left a phone message denying and then rationalizing his request.
"I did not call for a saturation patrol," insisted Montiel. "I asked that we look into it because of a spike in crime."
Ultimately, his dishonor said, it was determined that this "spike in crime" could be dealt with in other ways. Funny how Montiel's November 14 memo never mentions this so-called crime spike, just the men "loitering in our main streets and business areas." And though Town Manager Arellano declined a request to be interviewed, The Bird's other sources in the local government confirmed the version of events related in Arellano's e-mail.
What Montiel didn't understand is that you can't arrest someone for hanging out. A cop has to have probable cause that something illegal's being done. Standing around, sans any crime or trespass, is hardly a crime.
Could be Montiel's trying to butt-smooch Arpaio so the sheriff will consider renewing the law-enforcement contract. But other e-mails obtained by The Bird made clear that Arpaio would not talk to Guadalupe until the town dropped a lawsuit filed this fall against the sheriff. The suit claimed Arpaio violated former Mayor Rebecca Jimenez's freedom of speech by canceling the contract. This, because Jimenez defied the sheriff during his April dragnet. Arpaio cited her defiance as the reason for ending the arrangement.
The federal court record shows this suit to have been voluntarily dismissed as of January 5, 2009. The legal beagle behind the suit, Ron Messerly, declined comment. What Arpaio received in return for this betrayal remains to be seen. Montiel's been one of the few in Guadalupe who's consistently pro-Arpaio, and yet his rise to prominence was assisted, in part, by anti-Arpaio activists such as Our Lady of Guadalupe Deacon Santino Bernasconi and his wife, longtime community activist Socorro Bernasconi.
How can the people of Guadalupe countenance a mayor willing to drop a dime on the entire town, and call in Arpaio's goons? That's what The Bird wants to know.
For pinkos who may be confused by the sounds of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, and Bobby Darin oozing out of their radios as they hit 1480 AM KPHX (formerly known as the home of "the Valley's Progressive Talk"), have no fear. The tres liberal Nova M network's merely moved left on dial, where it can now be found at 1190 AM, the former home of Latino station La Buena Onda (the Good Wave).
The move's been in the works for a while, and was advertised on 1480, as Nova M simulcast on both stations until the end of 2008. But many who listen to the station only occasionally seem unaware of the change. Currently, 1480 AM's broadcasting the Internet-radio lounge channel Martini in the Morning. This, along with some initial technical difficulties on 1190's end, led some Phoenicians to believe that Nova M had flown the coop.
At least on the surface, the move seems to be an upgrade: new digs, a stronger signal. Indeed, the station's new offices at Indian School Road and Central Avenue are positively swank compared with 1480's ratty, rundown offices near downtown. As for the signal, during the day at least, it's static free.
Not that The Bird's fond of all the liberal loonies on Nova M. On the night shift, Mike Malloy sounds like a pure-T nut. The blowhard barely seems rational. And believe it or not, this beaker would rather listen to right-wing moonhowler Michael Savage in the evenings on 550 AM. At least Savage can be entertaining, unlike Malloy, when he's not talking politics.
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Otherwise, this seed-swallower prefers Nova M's yenta-ish Randi Rhodes or bookish smoothie Thom Hartmann. Locally, 1190 has winners in Todd Landfried's weekly show Desert Politics, Cynthia Black's program Action Point, and Dr. Belinda Barclay White's curiously fascinating health program Knowledge Is Power.
Whatever happened to erstwhile 1480 stalwart Jeff Farias, you may wonder?
After an acrimonious divorce from Nova M in 2008, he's trying his hand at videocasting his show live from his own studio at thejefffariasshow.com. Though The Bird disagrees with Farias on numerous subjects, some of his episodes are pretty good; better at least than Nova M's local replacement for him, Mike Newcomb, who has all the listening appeal of a yard of drywall. Can't the station do better, especially in afternoon drivetime? It's like being force-fed cough medicine and Sominex.
Why, Newcomb's so boring he rivals his right-wing competitor, KFYI's J.D. "Retardo-Man" Hayworth, who sounds like someone gave Peter Griffin's mentally challenged son Chris on Family Guy a talk show.