Not all attendees were masked up at the Arizona School Boards Association’s (ASBA) Annual Conference last week, despite having a mask mandate in place. ASBA fought for local school districts to be able to establish mask mandates; they joined a lawsuit that prevailed against Governor Doug Ducey’s mask mandate ban.
Pima County Superintendent of Schools Dustin Williams was one leader spotted maskless during the Superintendents Division Business Meeting. In addition to ASBA’s conference mandate, most of Williams’ school districts have mask mandates in place for their students: Ajo Unified, Amphitheater Unified, Catalina Foothills Unified, Flowing Wells Unified, Sunnyside Unified School District, Tanque Verde Unified, and Tucson Unified.
A number of school officials were also maskless as they recorded testimonies for ASBA. One of them was Red Mesa Unified School District Interim Superintendent Dr. Amy Fuller, former interim superintendent for Scottsdale Unified School District. Fuller’s district currently requires face masks at all times indoors.
Unlike the county superintendent, Tanque Verde Unified Governing Board Member Anne Velosa wore a mask for her testimony.
AZ Free Newsreported in September that a number of attendees at an ASBA conference also didn’t mask up. ASBA spokespersons explained that they had a loosely enforced mask mandate in place, and that the individuals were from various districts with different beliefs on masking.
Parents have voiced concerns about their children’s social development, or the quality of education for those with special needs or disabilities. Current experts on the controversial social-emotional learning (SEL) admit that they don’t have complete studies on the impact of masking on children’s development. However, they speculated that educators could adjust somehow to work around the masks. Feasible solutions haven’t been presented for students who rely on seeing mouths to learn, such as deaf or hearing-impaired students — though some suggest clear masks, those present their own issues like fogging up.
Tuesday, the Pima County Attorney’s Office announced it would no longer charge individuals for simple drug possession, paraphernalia, or related personal-use incidents. The policy won’t apply to those arrested for simple possession and a felony offense.
Pima County Attorney Laura Conover said in a memo to law enforcement that low vaccination rates forced her hand in deciding to decline prosecution of more minimal drug charges.
“A sizable percentage of [society] has expressed disinterest in the vaccine, depriving us of the herd immunity that would have put this virus behind us,” said Conover. “COVID is now spreading inside the jail, putting people there at risk. The health and safety of our community are paramount.”
Conover’s policy mirrored that established by her predecessor, Barbara LaWall, in March 2020. Conover explained she lifted LaWall’s policy after the vaccine became widely available and the county established the nation’s first pre-charge drug court, STEPs. Conover urged law enforcement to deflect offenders to drug treatment, like CODAC.
One of Conover’s biggest goals has been to stop prosecuting the “poor, sick, and addicted.” Part of that includes getting rid of cash bail. When she assumed office in January, Conover instructed her prosecutors to not ask for cash bail, and limited certain deportations.
In August, Conover told KOLD that she wanted to abolish cash bail entirely. That’s something she also claimed had a negative impact on the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You can’t have so many people packed into a space because it’s a huge public health problem for people who are brought into the jail for corrections officers and other professionals,” said Conover.
That same month, the Tucson City Court released without bond a man arrested for shooting at an officer. Previous Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus criticized the decision in a now-deleted Twitter account; Conover wouldn’t comment on the specifics of the case, but said that the man should’ve received bond because he posed a threat to the community.
Earlier this month, Magnus was appointed as the new head of Customs and Border Protection. Officer Chad Kasmer was appointed as Tucson’s new police chief.
Conover’s progressive perspective on criminal justice reform earned the support of a number of noteworthy left-wing activists, like Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona and John Legend.
Similar or identical progressive reforms were first championed by Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm. His reforms led to the release of Darrell Brooks, the man behind the Waukesha Christmas parade massacre. According to the MacIver Institute, of over 900 individuals given deferred prosecution agreements under Chisholm’s tenure, 30 percent went on to commit more crimes, fail to appear in court, or fail to follow court-ordered requirements.
Since assuming office, Conover’s office has experienced massive staff turnover rates.
Pima County is backing an event celebrating illegal immigrants and advocating to equip them with taxpayer-funded legal defense. Pima County Attorney’s Office has sponsored the event, as well as Pima County Board of Supervisor Adelita Grijalva’s special staff assistant, Marjava Ramirez, while Tucson Mayor Regina Romero announced her support for the event on Thursday. In addition to their sponsorship, the county attorney’s office will offer information about marijuana expungement and gun locks at the event.
The “We Are Home Celebration” will begin with several hours of voter outreach for a ballot initiative to allow illegal immigrants access to public defenders for their deportation cases, also known as “universal representation”. This portion of the event will be led by PIMA County Justice For All – Justicia Para Todos. They need at least 75,000 signatures by next summer to appear on the 2022 ballot. Currently, they have around 6,000 signatures.
According to campaign manager for the ballot initiative, Martha Reyes, illegal immigrants often lack the funds for adequate representation, raising the likelihood of their deportation.
“We want to establish a legal office for undocumented folks in deportation proceedings. These are typically poor people who don’t have money to get a lawyer,” Reyes said. “They’re people who have been here for years, and the only thing they want is a better life and a better future for their kids. A simple [traffic] stop can change their whole lives.”
The ballot initiative has attracted the attention of some of Hollywood’s elite. Last month, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the director made famous by his Broadway hit, “Hamilton,” donated $25,000 to the ballot initiative.
Other sponsors for the event include Mi Familia Vota, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, Tucson Jobs with Justice, LUCHA – Living United for Change in Arizona, Arizona Center for Empowerment, International Painters Union Local 86, Corazon Arizona, AzCOSH, Moms Clean Air Force, Arizona Dream Act Coalition ADAC, Care in Action US, Jahmar International, and Healthcare Rising Arizona.
In addition to Romero, several other elected officials and tribal leaders have also endorsed the initiative. Representatives Raul Grijalva (D-AZ-03) and Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ-02); State Representative Andres Cano (D-Tucson); Tucson City Councilmembers Lane Santa Cruz, Paul Cunningham, Paul Durham, and Richard Fimbres; Pima County Supervisor and Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) Board Member Sadie Shaw; Pascua Yaqui Tribe Chairman Robert Valencia; and Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris.
The government-backed event will take place Saturday at Mission Manor Park, from 9 am to 3 pm. The event will also offer free COVID-19 vaccinations and immigration services.
The Pima County Board of Supervisors decided Tuesday that unvaccinated employees will pay up to $1,500 more in insurance fees – but unvaccinated illegal immigrants with COVID-19 will be given a $2 million quarantine shelter, without facing any penalties for their vaccination status. The supervisors voted for the vaccination disincentive 4-1; only Supervisor Steve Christy voted against it.
Christy argued that this disincentive was punishing people arbitrarily, pointing out that his fellow supervisors are choosing to punish the unvaccinated while ignoring others with significant comorbidities. He pointed out that there are other employees beyond the unvaccinated that present as much or more of a financial burden to the county health care system due to their health conditions.
“[I]f we’re going to penalize employees who don’t take the vaccine because if they fall sick it will cost more on the county’s health care system, is there going to be an examination of all employees with other ailments or sicknesses that cause expenses to our health care system, such as obesity or high blood pressure or diabetes?” asked Christy. “This is a discriminatory segregation of those who have the right to choose what type of procedures they want with their own conscience and their own decision with their medical practitioner – to coerce them with monetary penalties is wrong, and it is definitely […] unconstitutional.”
Following Christy’s remarks, Supervisor Adelita Grijalva quickly motioned to vote on the item. Some of the arguments in favor of the vaccination disincentive focused on the perceived duty that employees owed one another in limiting COVID-19 spread.
Many of the citizens who issued public comment during the meeting expressed their opposition to the vaccine disincentive. They cited the lack of long-term studies on the vaccine, as well as the need to honor religious exemptions and personal medical needs.
Pima County salaries range from as low as $15 an hour ($2,400 a month), to nearly $140 an hour ($22,400 a month).
As for the $2 million to shelter illegal immigrants, the board approved the use of those Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds to acquire a local Red Roof Motel with nearly 180 rooms.
Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry explained in a letter that this expenditure was necessary due to other shelters reaching COVID-19 capacity. According to Huckelberry, over 8,400 asylum seekers have been processed since March. Of those, just under 300 individuals were COVID-positive (three percent of the total), while nearly 1,800 received the COVID-19 vaccine.
Yet, Huckelberry emphasized that it would be necessary to obtain additional housing to stop any spread.
“The key to ensuring COVID-19 does not spread significantly in congregate housing is to provide individual housing during the quarantine period,” stated Huckelberry. “A three percent infection rate among the population at risk is not significant.”
Last month, the supervisors voted to give employees a $300 bonus and three extra vacation days as an incentive to get vaccinated. As a result, over 2,140 additional employees got vaccinated. Around 4,430 employees are vaccinated – 66 percent of their workforce.
The earliest that these vaccine disincentives could go into place would be October 1.
At a time when state officials are pushing ways to improve Arizona’s tourism industry, the Pima County Board of Supervisors reneged on its nearly $40,000 commitment to the Arizona Bowl.
The Arizona Bowl is a NCAA-certified postseason college football game held since 2015 at the University of Arizona’s Arizona Stadium. It is presented with a title sponsor, which for the first five years was NOVA Home Loans. Then in 2020 the game was played as the Offerpad Arizona Bowl.
This year, the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl is slated to be played on Dec. 31, and the event is expected to bring thousands of football fans to southern Arizona. It is a boost to local tourism that is sorely needed, supporters say.
But on Tuesday the Pima County BOS took a swipe at the new title sponsor and brought what tourism officials say was undue negative attention to the event.
In a 4 to 1 vote, the BOS went back on its commitment of $38,155 toward the game, citing “ethical concerns” with controversial comments and activities associated with Barstool Sports and its founder, David Portnoy. The vote came despite the fact many of the concerning comments date back nearly a decade and that the company in recent years has established a respected reputation.
Barstool Sports is seen by many as an American business success story – the digital media company produces original content focused on sports and pop-culture. Its 280 employees are also involved in producing an amateur boxing league, a radio show distributed by Westwood One, and a number of podcasts.
And then there is the Barstool Fund, which garnered national attention last year when Portnoy led an effort which raised more than $40 million from several sports figures to provide financial support for small businesses hard hit by the pandemic. Some of the recipients were Arizonans.
In July, Portnoy announced Barstool Sports as the new title sponsor of the Arizona Bowl and kicked off an aggressive marketing campaign that will feature the Tucson area as much as the game itself.
But despite the company’s various successes, four Pima County supervisors turned their backs on the fact that the 17-member executive board of the Arizona Bowl vetted the new title sponsor. Among those on the executive board are Brent Deraad of Visit Tucson, Ted Maxwell of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, and Joe Snell of Sun Corridor.
Critics of the BOS vote call it “misguided” and point to the fact many of the criticisms deal with comments and activities involving Portnoy and other company personalities from more than a decade ago.
The BOS also turned its back on comments from Kym Adair, who is serving as executive director of the bowl game.
Adair did not make excuses for prior inappropriate comments some found offensive, admitting there were jokes “that have missed, comedies and content that didn’t land or stand the test of time.” She did, however, emphasize the company’s various successes, which include being the only sports media company with a female CEO.
Barstool Sports also has a recent connection to Arizona, Adair told the board in a written statement. Earlier this year the NCAA abruptly cancelled a major women’s golf regional event in Louisiana, leaving a dozen teams without an opportunity to try for the Championship.
A Barstool Sports official got the company involved with the NCAA and several teams across the country ended up at the “Let Them Play” tournament in Chandler in May.