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Gutless Wonders

The new year has done nothing to alter the idiotic behavior of too many of our local elected leaders. But before we descend into the abyss, how about this wonderful weather? Forget about all the negative adjectives used to describe the threatening storms pummeling the Valley. I'm rejoicing with every...
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The new year has done nothing to alter the idiotic behavior of too many of our local elected leaders.

But before we descend into the abyss, how about this wonderful weather?

Forget about all the negative adjectives used to describe the threatening storms pummeling the Valley. I'm rejoicing with every drop of rain that falls!

The best part of all is that there is water in the Salt River once again. If only it would just keep flowing day after day, year after year. Think what that would do for the Valley!

Restoring even a minimal flow to the Salt River would improve things immensely here. Not only would it help recharge groundwater, it would quickly bring us a beautiful riparian corridor through the heart of the city. And this is not to mention that it would give us a natural constraint to the cancerous growth that is ruining our area aesthetically.

The development industry's propaganda organ -- also known as the Arizona Republic -- would have us believe that the Salt River is "normally" dry.

But that's far from the truth. The Salt is actually abnormally dry. For eons it flowed year-round, sometimes unleashing huge amounts of water through the Valley.

The only reason the Salt is dry most of the time is because, a century ago, a handful of farmers and power brokers formed the predecessor to the Salt River Project and seized control of the vast Salt and Verde river watersheds. These guys, with the help of Congress, decided to build a series of dams on the Salt and Verde and divert every last drop of water for "economic" purposes.

They killed the lower Salt River to fuel the Valley's growth. This shortsighted, incredibly greedy policy is on its way toward transforming what was once a beautiful Sonoran habitat graced with flowing rivers -- including the Salt, Verde, Gila, San Pedro, Agua Fria and Hassayampa -- into an urban hellhole of 10 million to 15 million people.

Any community that kills its rivers to fuel rampant growth and short-term profits is a soulless place living beyond its means and forfeiting its destiny.

The front-page headline in the January 8 Republic declared: "Leaders urge bold efforts on water."

But nowhere in the story that followed was there a discussion about constraining growth, or, God forbid, tossing a bone to nature by letting a little water flow through the Salt all the time.

A bold leader would ask this question: How can we restore the Salt River and thrive?

The politician who obviously should be leading the charge on water issues and a host of other public policies is Governor Janet Napolitano.

Yet she continues to disappoint.

On water, all the governor has come up with is rhetoric that we should develop a conservation ethic.

Not wasting water is fine. But this misses the point. The debate should be over how we use the huge amount of water we have. There's more water in central Arizona than Saudi Arabia has oil. That's why we can continue to support 100,000-plus new people a year moving into Maricopa County alone.

But water supplies are not distributed evenly across the state. While the Valley has plenty -- too much for our own good -- the story is different in many parts of rural Arizona. Even though water is scarce in these areas, there are absolutely no controls on development.

The San Pedro, the last free-flowing river in Arizona, is a victim of all this. Despite the fact that growth is rapidly depleting the groundwater that feeds the San Pedro, Governor Napolitano is doing nothing to slow development in and around Sierra Vista.

Former governor and Interior secretary Bruce Babbitt tells me one of the world's great natural sanctuaries may disappear unless something is done soon.

One option promoted by environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, is to create an Active Management Area for Sierra Vista like the AMAs in place in other urban areas around the state. An AMA at least requires developers to show a 100-year water supply before they can get building permits.

Babbitt says he supports a statewide initiative that would mandate growth controls along the San Pedro corridor.

Saving the San Pedro is an issue the governor should strongly support, but one that she will continue to ignore. She's afraid to even attempt to rally the public to such a progressive cause in the face of entrenched development interests.

Napolitano is far more comfortable in her intellectual world of blue-ribbon committees that spew reports she can hide behind.

She should steal a page from the late Ronald Reagan (like him or not), who managed to pass much of his legislative agenda through a hostile Democratic Congress by taking his homespun rap straight to the public.

But in Napolitano's case, this assumes she would put principle over her damnable head-in-the-sand governing style designed to ensure that her political career stays on track.

Napolitano faces a similar situation to Reagan's with an increasingly hostile Legislature. The rabid religious right is passionate about its agenda, and controls key positions in the Legislature. If Napolitano hopes to advance even a moderately progressive platform, she must reach out to the majority of the public that does not cotton to fanatic right-wingers.

Napolitano is so timid, however, that she won't even lead the charge on relatively narrow issues where there is strong public support for reform.

Take the ongoing mess in Colorado City, where fundamentalist Mormon polygamists have purposely bankrupted the public school district under direction of their fanatic "prophet" and pedophile extraordinaire, Warren Jeffs.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne and Attorney General Terry Goddard have prepared a bill, introduced by state Senator Linda Gray, calling for Arizona to place financially failing school districts like Colorado City's into receivership.

I asked Napolitano last November if she would support such a bill, and she dodged the question. She said she liked the idea conceptually, but couldn't comment because no bill had then been introduced.

Well, the bill now has been introduced, but the governor continues to duck the uncomfortable topic of Colorado City -- whether it concerns the sexual slavery of young girls propagated by the fundamentalist Mormons in control there or whether it involves the area's school district coffers, which the polygamists have pilfered for decades to prop up their debased society.

Napolitano's press secretary, Jeanine L'Ecuyer, offered up this gem in response to an e-mail I sent asking if Janet will support Gray's bill:

"The Governor doesn't comment about bills that have not yet come before her."

Excuse me, but what good is this progressive governor if she refuses to comment on bills until they have passed? Especially ones that her feminist bedrock constituency supports vehemently.

Speaking of gutless leaders . . .

The five boneheads who make up the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors are masters of dodging the bullet.

Even though I already knew the answer, I called all five supes last week to ask them what they were doing to open two recently completed jails and support buildings that cost taxpayers (get this!) $500 million.

Not one of the cowards returned my call.

Here's the deal: Prisoners can't be put in the 3,227 beds in the two jails because Maricopa County has been unable to attract the 1,200 detention officers it needs.

This is a huge and embarrassing problem that supervisors are desperately trying to ignore.

While much of the blame for this fiasco lies with Sheriff Joe Arpaio (too few detention officers want to work for the fool), the supervisors are also responsible.

It's the supervisors who set the budget for the sheriff's office. And it's the supervisors who are ultimately responsible for ensuring that a countywide one-fifth-of-a-cent sales tax dedicated to building and operating jails is properly spent.

In an attempt to hire more guards, supervisors last year raised the starting salary to $32,000 a year and lowered the hiring age to 18. But even this hasn't attracted enough new guards to fill the shortfall.

Chris Gerberry, president of the Maricopa County Detention Officers/Deputies Association, says the problem results from Arpaio's vengeful and paranoid management of the MCSO. Bottom line: Arpaio has created a criminal justice crisis in Maricopa County by failing to fulfill his primary obligation as sheriff -- which is to safely operate the county jail system.

So what can the supervisors do to force this duly elected official (however pathetically inept) to run his office properly?

They can freakin' take steps to find out why the MCSO is in such a mess, and then do something about it!

Here's the first step they should immediately take: Order a complete performance and financial audit of the sheriff's office -- something that has never been done since Arpaio came into power in 1992. (It would be unimaginable for an entity of this size to go unaudited for 12-plus years in the private sector!)

Here are the names and phone numbers of the supervisors: Chairman Max Wilson, 602-506-7642; Andy Kunasek, 602-506-7562; Fulton Brock, 602-506-1776; Mary Rose Wilcox, 602-505-7092; and Don Stapley, 602-506-7431.

Call them up. Demand that they audit Arpaio's shop for the first time in history.

E-mail [email protected], or call 602-229-8445.

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