Political Notebook: Construction project at El Rio Golf Course raises shut down suspicions

One of the many third rails in local politics is almost any proposed change to Tucson’s El Rio Golf Course.

Golfers and residents — both those who live nearby and those that don’t but are veterans of other fights to save the golf course — are suspicious of a plan to shut down half of the 18-hole course for two months this summer to build a detention basin to capture runoff after storms. The project is designed to stop flooding downstream of the golf course.

At a meeting earlier this week, county flood control officials were met with hostility and distrust from more than three dozens Tucsonans convinced the planned construction is an elaborate attempt to undermine the financial success of the westside golf course.

It is a charge that city of Tucson officials categorically rejects.

The underlying distrust between westside residents and city officials is decades old, with some convinced that the city has never stopped looking for ways to divest the property. The failed discussions in 2013 between the Tucson City Council and Grand Canyon University to sell the property only further cemented that belief.

Accusations flew during the 90-minute meeting held at the El Rio Neighborhood Center, but several people stated they believed that by partially closing the 18-hole golf course for roughly 60 days for construction would put a six-figure dent in its operating budget. And that could then be used by the Council to justify closing the course.

“I worked in the ‘70s to save El Rio Golf Course, and again five years ago and I am here tonight to do it again,” Cecilia Cruz-Baldenegro told to a county staffer running the meeting Wednesday night.

Assistant City Manager Albert Elías rejected the accusations, saying the city has no plans to sell El Rio Golf Course or any of the city-owned courses.

The plan, after considerable feedback from the golfing community, is to continue current operations.

In fact, the start date to begin construction in June was designed to coincide with the slowest time of year for the course.

The city of Tucson contracted with the county to address flooding problems downstream of the golf course.

Also questioned Tuesday night was whether the $1 million project is a prudent use of taxpayer dollars, concerns about public transparency, lack of alternatives and comments from the flood control district that the detention basis is only a partial fix and could lead to neighborhood flooding.

After the meeting, Elías says he is willing to at least pump the breaks on the project to consider some of the suggestions made by community members, possibly delaying construction until some issues can be settled.

Cut to assessor’s office budget — was it political?

County Assessor Bill Staples again clashed with the Pima County Board of Supervisors this week, this time publicly complaining about a $700,000 cut to his department’s budget.

The complaint, made during the midst of a two-day budget hearing, suggested that County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry was doling out some political retribution from when Staples said at another public meeting that the county was misleading the public about future tax hikes.

The back and forth between Staples and the Democrat-controlled board has been going on for year over whether Staples has been too aggressive in assessments, mainly commercial assessments.

On Thursday, Huckelberry fired off a memo indirectly addressing Staples’ accusation — noting that the county assessor has returned more than $1 million to the budget for the last two fiscal cycles.

“In his testimony to the Board of Supervisors in developing the (current budget) the Assessor indicated he would return at least $1 million of his budget at the end of FY 2018/19,” Huckelberry wrote. “The $700,000 reduction I authorized and imposed by budget staff simply reflected a more appropriate budget for the Assessor given his historical practices.”

Staples isn’t buying it, saying that Huckelberry’s decision comes after his comments made before the board in February — but long after the county assessor sent over his proposed budget in January.

“It should be done in the normal process,” Staples said, noting that he has been very frugal with his budget. “It should be encouraged and not punished.”

AG investigates Clodfelter

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office is formally looking into whether a former state representative from Tucson broke state lobbying laws.

The Arizona Secretary of State first looked into Todd Clodfelter’s actions at the Capitol this session after the Yellow Sheet Report noted Clodfelter had met with legislators along with his wife. Together the couple owns a lobbying firm called Tag Team Strategies LLC. Last June, Clodfelter established the Arizona Cosmetology Association, an industry group.

In response to inquiries from the Secretary of State’s office, Clodfelter said he had not acted as a lobbyist trying to influence legislators. But in a May 6 letter, Sambo Dul, the new state elections director, found Clodfelter’s responses lacking and decided there was “reasonable cause” to believe Clodfelter violated the one-year ban, which would be a misdemeanor if proven.

The AG’s office is looking into whether there was any civil or criminal wrongdoing.

DGT moves to new restaurant

Political junkies looking for the fix on Mondays will have to drive to a new location starting next week, with the Democrats of Greater Tucson moving their weekly luncheon meetings to Kettle restaurant on West Starr Pass Boulvard, just west of I-10.

The move was prompted by the closure of the Dragon View Restaurant last week.

With a shift in the menu also comes a bump in the price for the weekly buffet — going from $10 a person to $12 a head.

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