Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

December 1, 2006


Host: Michael Grant

Journalists Roundtable


  • Local reporters discuss the week's top stories.
Guests:
  • Doug MacEachern - Arizona Republic
Category: Journalists Roundtable

View Transcript
Michael Grant:
It's Friday, December 1, 2006. In the headlines this week, problems continue for the Thomas J. Pappas Schools for the Homeless as teachers took to the streets to protest this week and a Maricopa County Superior Court Judge appoints a three-person panel to run the school district. Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas wants to get tougher on crime by denying probation to some repeat offenders. And former Arizona Governor Fife Symington suffered a rare political defeat at the hands of social conservatives. That's next on Horizon.

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Michael Grant:
Good evening. I'm Michael Gant and this is the Journalists Roundtable. Joining me to talk about these and other stories are Doug MacEachern of the Arizona Republic, Howard Fischer, publicist of Capitol Media Services and Robbie Sherwood of the Arizona Republic. There were several developments this week in the ongoing controversy over the management of the Pappas schools in Maricopa County. On Thursday, Judge Kenneth Fields appointed a three-person panel to run the school district, while the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors is calling for the removal of the Superintendent Sandra Dowling. Doug, did the judge split the baby with that ruling?

Doug MacEachern:
I think he did. He named a three-member panel which kind of surprised some people, they didn't expect him to do that I guess. But one of the appointees, Chuck Essex, long time Mesa school finance guy. I think he was in Mesa schools 17 years and then went on to some other administrative stuff. He knows the business inside and out. Perfect choice. The other one Nancy Haas is more interesting. She's a professor at ASU West, an education professor, and she's been a long time advocate of not separating out kids, homeless kids, from the mainstream school environment. Which is really one of the political issues, really, controlling this whole debate about whether or not the Pappas schools, which are falling apart financially, should be melded into traditional schools.

Michael Grant:
In fact, I was surprised -- I never focused in on this, Doug, but there's about 12,000 homeless students in Maricopa County. And the private schools only have about 1, 500 of them. So by definition you have more than 10,000 of that category of child who are in just quote normal school system.

Doug MacEachern:
Yeah. The county supervisors who are adamant to deconstruct Sandra Dowling's schools empire have really -- I think they've made a probably good move in the fact that they have brought in Lisa Keegan, former state school superintendent, to make the case that, yeah, that the traditional school environment is really well-prepared to accept these kids because they've been doing it all along. They've got thousands of kids.

Howard Fischer:
But part of the problem is that the nature of homelessness is you're not necessarily living in the Creighton School District or the Madison School District from week-to-week or month-to-month. And whatever else you say about Sandra Dowling, this concept of saying, we will send out the buses we will make sure these kids have a stable environment. This is the only stability the kids have. And the fact is they have different needs. I mean, these are kids who aren't sure if there's a meal coming. I appreciate mainstreaming and we've talked about this with different issues over the years whether it's disabled or whatever else. But the ability to give these kids a place where they know they're going to be a certain number of hours a day and are going to get a meal there becomes very important.

Robbie Sherwood:
The judge didn't reject the motion or the request to turn the schools over to the Phoenix School District, which would have immediately mainstreamed them and taken them, put them in the regular schools.

Michael Grant:
Actually they had indicated at least for the second semester the Pappas schools would remain open. But I think that it was clearly--

Robbie Sherwood:
But the die was cast but this may just sort of be possibly a temporary reprieve. I guess depending on who that third person they choose is. Because the Haas notion is that mainstreaming is the best way to go. The segregation of these students is sort of an old notion that our school system -- the rest of the school system has progressed beyond and in fact this large majority of homeless kids in the valley are in these schools. And I haven't seen her numbers but she, over and over, repeats that these students are performing in the regular schools are outperforming the kids from Pappas.

Doug MacEachern:
You can make a case, Mike, that we're getting a little ahead of the game and assuming there's going to be any kind of deconstructions of Pappas as a result of this. Haas is sort of the variable here because she has been a long time advocate of doing just that.

Michael Grant:
The two of them have to agree on a third or they have to go back to the judge I guess with a list to pick the third.

Doug MacEachern:
Right. And they made a point of saying that that is not part of their goal here. Their mission is a financial one to sort out where the money's going.

Michael Grant:
And speaking of which, where is the money going? I mean, what's the suspicion in terms of what obviously are deep financial troubles for the County School District?

Doug MacEachern: From the very beginning the big problem has not been so much the fact that her books -- that Sandra Dowling's books are in disarray. It's from the fact that she's not revealing the details of where she's been spending the money to anybody. She just fiercely resisted the efforts of the County Board of Supervisors to answer that very question. Where are you spending the money? And so they've had suspicions all along. And it sort of started to filter out now that yes, indeed she's got a lot of administrators, paying those administrators quite a bit of money. That's a serious problem. That's one, mind you, that Essex and Haas are charged with --

Michael Grant:
Figuring out?

Doug MacEachern:
Figuring out. But that's their big suspicion.

Robbie Sherwood:
His reputation, Chuck Essex for school finances is stellar. He will probably get to the bottom of this and reveal that mystery of what Sandra Dowling did with the money. The other thing is if Pappas School for the Homeless does persist and go on, it's unlikely it will have one person as the school board in charge. I think that was the major problem here is you can't just have one person who is the school board. There's no checks and balances in that system. This is the case scenario.

Michael Grant:
For one thing it turns out to be a very tiny board.

Doug MacEachern:
That's right. The law is very vague as to what the administration of
the schools are. And, as a matter of fact, Sandra Dowling is not the only one of the nine in the state that is run that is run strictly by the county school superintendent. They either have a total option to appoint a board or not or run it like a thief which she has.

Michael Grant:
Teachers got their checks today, right?

Doug MacEachern:
Well, the money is cleared. I'm not sure if they got them today or going to get them early next week, Tuesday, maybe. But yeah --

Michael Grant:
At least the man was they were going to get them. Although I think the state may not cut a check technically to the county until Monday or Tuesday of next week.

Doug MacEachern:
Right.

Michael Grant:
In the meantime, Howie, Sandra Dowling pleads not guilty to what, 20 plus charges she is facing this week.

Howard Fischer:
Yes. And I mean, nobody expected her to go into court and say of course -- she did the difficult thing where she has this great booking photo where she's smiling and looking innocent. The other thing she did this afternoon is she went over to Pappas School and she gave this very tearful sort of goodbye. Because now she's not in charge. And there are a lot of people at Pappas School who believe that whatever else she did, that she's responsible for the kids being there. We can sit here and get into a discussion whether mainstreaming is better than not. But there were kids who were falling through the cracks and were not getting an education at all. So what's going to happen in the criminal case? I've looked at the charges. I can't tell you whether the conflicts of interest, the little contracts are of a violation of the law, are they technical or something else. But I think that she's got a very difficult road ahead of her to prove that, in fact, everything was done above board and in compliance with the school finance law.

Michael Grant:
And speaking of which, ASU, NAU and u of a students have a difficult road ahead. They have some more tuition to pay.

Howard Fischer:
Although not as much as the university presidents had wanted. Right here on this campus Michael Crow had wanted something in the neighborhood of 7 percent. Similar figure at U of A and NAU was a little bit less. What the regents said is, "Wait a second. We've already shocked kids. Remember we did a 40 percent increase about four years ago." That was done for the same reason they're doing this. How much is the legislature going to finance? So to a certain extent, what the regents have done is a little bit of game of chicken. They've gone ahead and said, "We're raising tuition." We're doing it early. Normally this isn't done until after the legislature sets a budget. We will count on the legislature to fill in what our needs are." Now, Robbie can tell you as somebody that's been out there, betting on the legislature to come up with money, not a good bet.

Robbie Sherwood:
Yeah. The problem is this is not last year when the housing market was going great guns and the revenue was coming in faster than anyone could believe the.

Michael Grant:
A billion, two or so. Right?

Robbie Sherwood:
Right. It flattened out. Right now the projections are -- they maybe a little out there -- but that we're heading soon for another fiscal deficit. Depending on the legislature to cut a check is not a sure thing in this environment. There are other specific very expensive things they'll need next year. Like they want more funding for the medical schools. That might be --

Doug MacEachern:
That's always been the head butting that's caused the tuition to
Rise. How much can they expect from the legislature? Well they've always expected very little. And the tuition rises, which I might add, are in the lower quadrant of college tuition

Howard Fischer:
That goes to the issue of the constitution says that constructions should be nearly free as practical. Nobody's ever put a definition on that and regents have said if we're in the lower third of public universities we've done it.

Robbie Sherwood:
The problem is we don't do enough for financial aid so it doesn't make up for that. So even though we're in the lower third in tuition it still costs a lot of money to go to school.

Michael Grant:
Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, this week, announced a new policy when it comes to plea bargains. Probation will not be offered for a second offense if that crime requires prison time. Howie, what's the county attorney saying about the new policy?

Howard Fischer:
Well, it's actually stating something that he's been trying to do for awhile. Several counties actually have this policy. The idea is that while the law gives you a certain amount of leeway on plea bargains in terms that you can have a range of sentences but probation is an option. He's saying if we have a repeat offender that we put on probation, that was strike one. Gave you a chance. Somehow you went back and you repeated. You're going to do some time and you're going to do it in the state prison system. From a political perspective, probably a very good move. People are tired. We're not just talking about violent offenders. We have one of the highest rates of auto theft in the country, identity theft, things like that. I think he said you're going to do time. The problem is, sending more people to prison increases prison costs. You know, he figured that in round numbers you'd send an additional 2,600 people to prison. Now, even if they're only going there for one year at some $50 per day per inmate, at some $50 dollars per day per inmate comes to $50 million which got a very unhappy governor.

Michael Grant:
Very strong reaction from Governor Janet Napolitano. She said, well, you know, if Andrew Thomas can change the policy the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors will have to kick in. In but I understand Pima County has been following this policy for two decades?

Howard Fischer:
Two decades.

Michael Grant:
In tribute to the state's costs?

Howard Fischer:
No. Here's the other piece of it. There's no legal basis for what the governor wants. There is nothing that says if a county decides we're going to send 50 percent of our felons versus 25 percent of our felons to prison that you can go back and do that. Andy Thomas is an elected official, answers to the public as does Barbara Wall down in Pima County. She's had this policy as you have pointed out. She says it protects people. When a judge sentences people they sentence them to the custody of the state of Arizona. It is not the job of the prosecutor to decide who is going to finance that. Now, if Janet Napolitano thinks she's going to send Maricopa County a bill she's going to wind up in court.

Doug MacEachern:
Somebody's going to make money writing a book called "Prairieville on $53 a day."

[Laughter]

Robbie Sherwood:
Very shrewd political move on Thomas's part. If the governor goes to the legislature to try to shut this down, the argument is, well, they're trying to get soft on crime. Nobody wants to be making that argument. Another thing is it's a reversal of what usually happens at the legislature. Usually you have lawmakers without looking at the big picture impacts pass get tough on crime measures and don't take into account the added jail space, added prosecutors and court resources that they're going to need in order to make this great idea they had come to fruition. They usually don't add any more money to the law.

Howard Fischer:
One amazing thing that could come out of this is the discussion bill Kopernike has been trying to push in terms of first-time non-violent offenders. The legislature has made, as Robbie points out, a lot of things class three, four, five and sometimes six felonies, with the idea of prison time. There are situations in which it doesn't make sense. Intensive probation can be done far less expensively than $50 a day. If you want to have a policy second time offenders go to prison, fine. Maybe you can help balance it off by saying there are first time offenders who do not belong there in the first place.

Michael Grant:
Arizona Court of Appeals picking up this issue of Sheriff Joe refusing to transport female inmates for abortions.

Howard Fischer:
This is going to be an interesting constitutional argument. You know, whether you believe Roe versus Wade is proper law, it is in fact the law of country that there's a constitutional right of a woman to terminate her pregnancy without undue restrictions by the state. The courts have also said generally speaking most constitutional rights survive incarceration. So if a woman who is pregnant when she's been sent to county jail says I want to terminate my pregnancy, Sheriff Joe says, well, you have that right but I'm sorry. You're incarcerated. And I'm not going to transport you. In fact is he's even rejected offers to pay. He says, you want to do this you get a court order. Now, court order takes time, takes effort. The longer somebody is pregnant, to terminate a pregnancy you complicate the medical procedure. His attorney went into court and said, well, your honor, our policy should be defended because the constitutional right to choose an abortion mentally is different than the actual right to get one done. Which we don't think the constitution requires. Now, I have a feeling from listening to the court of appeals judges, they're not exactly buying that distinction here.

Robbie Sherwood:
That sounds like a situation where you have the policy first and then quick think of a legal rationalization later.

Michael Grant:
To come up with it? But the sheriff, probably taking another fairly popular political position, regardless of what the court of appeals may rule.

Robbie Sherwood:
Well, Joe does a lot of this, which way is the wind blowing. Although, you know, the issue isn't so much pro-choice, anti- choice, the issue is should taxpayers pay for the transportation costs. Sure, that's a very populist position.

Michael Grant:
Former Arizona Governor Fife Symington defeated in his bid to become republican chairman of the district that includes Senator John McCain, highlighting the difference between moderate and social conservatives. Robbie why did Symington fail to receive the precinct chairmanship?

Robbie Sherwood:
Well, because the sort of the arch social conservatives who run that district had more precinct committeemen show up to vote. But it was one of these kinds of small time election districts. The reason it was interesting is the broader state because it opens up and sheds light on kind of an internal civil war that's going on in the Republican Party right now where you have sort of the all-planks republicans versus the big tent, let's welcome the moderate Republicans. And they fear that if this goes on too long and they get too divided they'll stop being able to win any sort of elections. This is, in a large part, about John McCain. John McCain is running for president and this is his home district. The guy who beat Symington, an activist named Robert Haney, has been in that seat for about two years. Haney intensely dislikes john McCain and has made it a point to issue proclamations to censuring John McCain in his home legislative district. It might be something the national media might want to pick up on this as he progresses. Sort of an annoyance and embarrassment.

Michael Grant:
So in other words, Symington was perceived as a McCain surrogate here. Because of course, Fife Symington is not a real liberal Republican.

Robbie Sherwood:
Absolutely not. That was the ironic thing about it is that the people Symington was running against were considered the conservatives and then the others were the rhinos or the moderates. And it's not just not who Symington is. I think he found that pretty humorous.

Robbie Sherwood: But this is the problem the party had even in its last election in terms of nominating Len Munsil and such. The people who get involved at the precinct level are the same ones who turn out in the primary. They're the high-efficacy voters, the believers, both on the right and the left. And to the extent that moderates have not come in to reclaim the party, we should go down to the precinct committee. Well, you know, "Dangerous Liaisons" is on cable tonight so -- cable tonight so we're going to stay home and watch that. So the moderates let them take control of the party. This happened during Evan Meacham's day.

Doug MacEachern:
It's sort of a dapple gainer for the national election. What people fear -- Republicans fear might happen in the primary process itself, you've got in this district, district 11, solidly Republican district but I believe just elected a Democrat.

Robbie Sherwood:
17 points. Yeah. That's one of the reasons why the McCain people want to get involved is they're afraid they're going to lose a seat to the Democrats because the candidates coming forth from the Rob Haney's are not palatable to the greater district.

Doug MacEachern:
And no one was questioning Fife Symington's conservative -- I guess he didn't personally know a lot of these players.

Michael Grant:
--Carpet bagger.

Howard Fischer:
No. He didn't drink the Kool-aid. If you don't drink the Kool-aid you can't represent our wing of the party.

Robbie Sherwood:
So this battle of ideological purity has lost him in a seat in a district which is north central Phoenix, Paradise Valley, the home of Burton Barr, Jane Hull, Betsey Bayless -- lost a seat to a Democrat for the first time since the Nixon administration. That's why the McCain people are trying to get it back.

Michael Grant:
But Elliott Hibbs gains a seat, if only for a fleeting moment.

Robbie Sherwood:
Well, it was part of his quest to hold every state office. Elliott Hibbs has been the Department of Administration. Well now he's in treasury. Where was he before? The Revenue Department. I knew it had something to do with money. He's a very solid administrator. They need somebody to go in and keep the lights on for a month until Dean Martin takes over. And Hibbs is likely a very good, solid choice for that.

Michael Grant:
In the meantime, Howie, David Peterson's sentencing was postponed today?

Howard Fischer:
Ran down to the court today to see what the judge was going to do with him. And his defense attorney walked in with a sheaf of letters from supporters about why David's a nice guy, should not be punished, certainly shouldn't be sent to jail. And the judge, to his credit said, look, I can't read these letters while I'm sitting here and postponed it for a couple of weeks saying, "we'll take a look." Does it make any difference ultimately? I don't know. I think when you have a public official who pleads guilty to a crime there's got to be some consequence here.

Michael Grant:
Any recommendation from the attorney general's office as to what the sentence should be?

Howard Fischer:
No. In fact Terry Goddard specifically said he's not going to provide a recommendation. We asked him should David do some jail time, should he be placed on probation? Terry just figures, I've got the plea deal. He resigned so Elliott can come in and maybe take a month to clean up the place before Dean Martin comes over and he got what he wanted. I think that -- I don't know that Terry believes that Dave Pederson should go to jail. What you have to remember here is after that whole investigation, you know what we're talking about here? We're talking about a technical violation. He didn't list $4,000 of income on a financial disclosure form. That's not a jailing offense.

Michael Grant:
Right. A former Arizona legislator pondering a run for mayor of Mesa.

Robbie Sherwood:
Former mayor Tom Freestone one of my favorite people in politics -- reflects my bias here -- but he's been setting this up for awhile. He's going to form an exploratory committee.

Michael Grant:
For president? Or are we still talking Mesa mayor here?

Robbie Sherwood:
I think they should hire him as ASU football coach while they're at it. Also he could be a good mayor for Mesa. It could be a crowded field although he's been working for a long time, setting up donors and things he needs to do. But other members of the city council are also taking a good, strong look at it. So in spite of his efforts to maybe clear the field he could have some competition.

Michael Grant:
It's interesting given all of their financial difficulties on the city of Mesa that you have so much jostling to be at the top of what is a rapidly unraveling scenario here.

Robbie Sherwood:
Right. I could see why that would appeal to someone like Freestone because he's been in administrative posts with the county. He's sort of the public servant's public servant type. So he probably sees himself as the right guy to clean that up and not angling for some higher office or anything like that.

Michael Grant:
Great segue way. Speaking of higher, how's that darned U.S. Airways-Delta merger going?

Doug MacEachern:
Well, the delta people courteously enough did not slam the door in the faces of Doug Parker at all when they came a calling. U.S. Airways had said that they wanted to at least go through the motions of talking with Delta administration about Delta management about the merger. It's sort of a pro-formal to get a look at their financial books.

Michael Grant:
Did they also meet with a creditors committee?

Doug MacEachern:
I don't believe they have yet. That's their intention. And meeting with the creditors is really the key to it all because the creditors hold all the cards at this point. If they get the creditors on board and they have a good package for a buyout those are the people who will make a decision.

Michael Grant:
I got to make this decision. We're completely out of time. Panelists thank you very much. Horizon takes a break most of next week as eight TV brings you special programming for a change instead of this program. But join us again next Friday for another edition of the -- it wasn't that funny, Howie -- of the Friday Journalists'
Roundtable. Thanks very much for joining us on a Friday. Have a great weekend. I'm Michael Grant. Good night.

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