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Trump's political suicide

Trump’s political suicide

BY: Eddie Celaya

Donald Trump is back at it with the spying. Kellyanne Conway is worried about your microwaves Go-Go-Gadgeting into G-men. Vladimir Putin has done a decent job infiltrating and running the country. Let’s recap the month. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned for lying about meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any Trump- Russia investigations because he did the exact same thing.

The two men join the list of Trump surrogates with confirmed ties to Russia, beginning with former campaign manager Paul Manafort. He’s been in the news lately due to documents released in the Ukraine revealing his dealings with Putin’s Russia.

And there’s Rex Tillerson, the nation’s reluctant secretary of state. Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, hasn’t done anything wrong (yet) but is one of just a few Americans to hold the Russian Order of Friendship. Yes, that’s a real award.

Oh, and I meant reluctant. “I didn’t want this job. I didn’t seek this job,” he told the Independent Journal Review in an interview. “I was supposed to retire in March, this month. I was going to go to the ranch to be with my grandkids.”

With each layer being slowly peeled back, the American public was getting close to the center of this political Russian Matryoshka doll. Then Trump seemingly went off the deep end.

“How low has President Obama gone to tapp (sic) my phones during the very sacred election process,” Trump tweeted at 6:30 a.m. on March 4 from Mar-a-Lago, Florida. “This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”

The tweet was a bombshell of an allegation. A sitting president accusing his predecessor of wire-tapping is indeed Nixonian.

Reactions from both sides were swift and predictable. Democrats and their allies gave the old “there you go again” head shake you give to a puppy who won’t stop pissing on the couch.

After all, Trump disobeyed the first law of high school English teachers: thou shall always cite your source.

Forget that he misspelled “tap.” Trump accolytes and apologists either took The Donald’s assertion as The Word handed down from on high, or pointed to a March 3 Breitbart article that seemed to be the genesis for Trump’s claim.

The article, which may require visiting Breitbart without being within a five-minute drive of a shower, is basically a lazy timeline linking to actually reporting done by credible news organizations.

It is easily the best piece of writing I’ve come across on Breitbart.

The most interesting link redirects to an article by former British politician Louise Mensch on her website HeatStreet.

Citing two unnamed sources, Mensch claims that on two separate occasions, the FBI requested a warrant be issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to “examine the activities of ‘U.S. persons’ in Donald Trump’s campaign with ties to Russia.”

Note that the warrant does not focus on Trump, but “U.S. persons” within his campaign. Note also it is not technically a “wire-tap,” but instead permission to electronically track and survey activity on a server.

Of course, if you haven’t been living under a rock lately, FBI Director James Comey put all speculation of any of the U.S. intelligence agencies spying on Trump Tower to rest on March 20 during his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee.

“With respect to the president’s tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets and we have looked carefully inside the FBI,” Comey said.

Would that stop Trump? Hell na. Here is what he live-tweeted as Comey was testifying to the existence of an FBI probe into links between Russia and the Trump 2016 campaign:

“James Clapper and others stated that there is no evidence Potus colluded with Russia. This story is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it!”

Clapper was the former national intelligence director under Obama.

Trump was referencing Clapper’s appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press with Chuck Todd a few months ago in which he suggests that there were no known personal contacts between Trump and the Russian government.

Not Trump associates mind you, Trump himself.

Clapper made one other important distinction. He had not seen any evidence in his time as director. However, he left his position in January. “I could not account for intelligence or evidence that may have been gathered since the inauguration on Jan. 20,” he said.

Is Trump’s tweet just a sloppy attempt to deflect attention from the Comey testimony?

Or does he really believe Obama has implemented a “deep-state shadow government” that is so entrenched in the everyday works of government that they make it impossible for Trump to govern?

Who knows anymore?

I’m beginning to doubt Trump cares if he is impeached. He acts like a kid who knows he is living on borrowed time, but instead of going to Disneyland he’s decided to rob every 7-11 in town.

You almost forget that Trump should be preparing for mid-season sweeps and firing Nick Cannon, not presiding over a cabinet of creeps led by Steve Bannon. Sad.

Aztec Press illustration by Katelyn Roberts

Monthly board meeting goes long, gets personal

Monthly board meeting goes long, gets personal

By EDDIE CELAYA

The March 8 Pima Community College Governing Board meeting will be remembered for two reasons: its nearly intolerable length and its bombshell accusations. A scheduled vote on the college’s most important issue, tuition rates, was postponed.

The nearly five and a half hour long meeting tested the patience of the board members, who openly sniped at each other verbally. Right off the bat, the public comment portion set the tone for the adversarial (and long) evening.

 

ISSUES IN HUMAN RESOURCES

Frank Velazquez Jr. delivered the night’s most serious charge. Velazquez, who is the program manager for a West Campus’ STEM grant, informed the board of his impending contract termination and his frustrations in applying for another position.

“Yesterday I found out the reason why I wasn’t moved forward for the last position I was in the running for,” he said. “The feedback given to me by HR was that the campus VP was concerned about my ‘going around regulations’ based on something I said in the interview.”

Because Velazquez’s current position is tied to a federal grant, “going around regulations” would mean Velazquez misappropriated federal funds. “He has questioned my integrity, and therefore I cannot stay silent,” Velazquez said.

“There is an inherent fallacy in his allegation,” he said. “In layman’s terms, no grant project director can ever ‘go around regulations’ when it comes to redirecting federal grant money.”

At the end of Velazquez’s statement, board members Sylvia Lee and Demion Clinco asked Chancellor Lee Lambert to look into Velazquez’s allegations.

Board member Luis Gonzales made a more forceful request.

“If anyone, any department needs to follow rules and protocol, it is HR,” Gonzales said. “I would ask today for the Chancellor, to undertake a complete and thorough investigation of the HR department to determine what is going on.”

Board Chairman Mark Hanna made note to move the issue onto a future board agenda.

 

C-FAIRR RETURNS

Coalition For Accountability, Integrity, Respect and Responsibility President Mario Gonzales kept the tone fiery.

“As chairman of C-FAIRR I urge the new board majority to recognize that Mr. Hanna and Mrs. Lee have failed in their duties and have not undertaken the task of seriously assessing the chancellor’s leadership,” Mario Gonzales said.

Gonzales statement laid out C-FAIRR’s reasoning for wanting to assess Lambert. Recent lawsuits, and the Higher Learning Commission were among the culprits.

The chancellor’s decision to send a letter and envoy on behalf of former Tucson Unified School District H.T. Sanchez representing the college was also cited.

The problem, Mario Gonzales said, was that Lambert issued the letter on official PCC letterhead and claimed to speak for the board.

“By supporting one political faction against another, he jeopardized PCC’s credibility in the community,” Mario Gonzales said. “What’s more, his actions demonstrate Mr. Lambert’s total ignorance and lack of awareness of the community.”

Board member Lee sternly addressed Mario Gonzales after his statement. “I really urge C-FAIRR, rather than bring back issues again and again that are not based on fact, in my opinion, to work with us and not sabotage the college,” Lee said.

“I challenge all of the board members to tell us what issues we have brought to the table that have not been documented publicly,” Gonzales said.

“Ok, we’re not in discussion Mr. Gonzales so you can please return to your seat” Hanna said, interrupting Gonzales.

 

SUMMER SCHEDULE FIGHT

The tense night continued with faculty representative David Morales’ report to the board. He focused heavily on the implementation of the upcoming Summer Session schedule.

“The past month was filled with the focus on the summer scheduling decision that has undermined our efforts to innovate and move forward,” Morales said.

For instructors, the main concern was “what is the ultimate goal of the summer scheduling decision?” Morales said.

When Morales ended his report, Lee immediately spoke. “Whenever you roll something out there’s got to be a communication plan,” she said. “It can’t be done unilaterally, which it sounds like it was.”

Board member Luis Gonzales was more blunt.

“What are we going do about this?” he said. “Do we say ‘administration, you made a little bit of an effort and it was ok, but since we already screwed it up, let’s move forward with it anyway?”

Referencing Higher Learning Commission recommendations, he addressed Lambert. “To be honest with you Mr. Chancellor, I’m not sure how the hell we passed the HLC test,” Gonzales said.

“Ok Mr. Gonzales,” Hanna said, quickly. “We need to be careful we are not in discussion.”

 

LAMBERT ANSWERS

After remaining mostly quiet throughout the night, a defiant Lambert spoke out during the Chancellor’s Report. The letter to TUSD was first on the agenda.

“I will own that, but I will say this,” he said. “My statement was not about what was going on at TUSD, it was simply to point out that we have a great relationship, and we want that relationship to continue.”

Summer session issues came next. Lambert said PCC had seen a decline of 22 percent in summer enrollment since 2012. He added a majority of students taking classes in the summer do so online.

“How do we justify to our taxpayers that we are running six facilities at full staffing levels in the face of this fiscal reality?” Lambert said. “That’s what’s driving the need to examine what we are doing on the summer.”

Lambert then went into a timeline detailing various meetings he held with important constituencies. He claimed it highlighted how open the summer scheduling process had been.

“I just want you to know,” Lambert said. “Extensive input was sought from employees over the course of a few months.”

Luis Gonzales was unimpressed by Lamberts litany of meetings and forums.

“Yeah, you can have all kinds of meetings, but if you don’t listen and don’t take it into account, what’s the result?” he said. “What we get is this argument here.”

He chastised Lambert further. “It certainly sounds like somebody isn’t listening.”

Lambert shot back. “I just gave you an example of how we listened,” he said. “Because of the feedback I received from the employee groups, we decided not to adjust contracts for the summer.”

Human Resources will also up be up for review, Lambert said. The college will go over contracts and hiring practices in place.

The issue Velazquez testified to earlier in the meeting seemed to take the chancellor by surprise. “I didn’t know that was what he was told by HR,” Lambert said. “But I also have to give the benefit of doubt to the other person.”

 

TUITION DECISION DELAYED

A presentation on the college’s new (and first) diversity plan had been scheduled to last 30 minutes, but ended up lasting three times that long. That last item on the board’s agenda for the evening was a vote on finalizing tuition rates.

College Executive Vice Chancellor David Bea laid out the financial benefits and drawbacks of three scenarios. Two scenario’s called for a $3 increase and another a $7 increase.

“What we know is, unless there is a significant enrollment turnaround, we are facing a pretty significant decrease in our expenditure limit capacity,” Bea said. The expenditure limit dictates how much of the college’s funds raised through taxes it can spend in a given year.

A severe decrease in expenditure limit spending would be catastrophic, Bea said.

Lee asked Bea if there could be salary increases without an increase in tuition rates.

“No, it would be very difficult to give salary increase of any significant type,” Bea said.

In response, Luis Gonzales asked if Bea had done any studies on how no increase or a 1% increase in tuition would affect the average instructor.

Hanna reminded Luis Gonzales that the topic at hand was tuition rates. “So it’s ok to go until midnight when the topic is tuition, but we can’t go a little longer on diversity?” Gonzales said, clearly perturbed.

Hanna, in an attempt to defuse some of the tension, said he agreed with Gonzales’ position that increasing tuition to balance the college’s ledger was wrong-headed.

“Write this down Mr. Gonzales,” said Hanna. “I absolutely agree with you that to vote on a tuition increase at this point, before we know what we are going to cut is something I don’t feel comfortable about.”
Bea attempted to explain that voting on tuition rates would not be out of the normal, even before the college had set a budget. However, citing the absence of Meredith Hay, Clinco made a motion to table the decision.

Gonzales asked if Clinco wanted more information on the topic. “No, I mean I think we are missing a board member, and I think it’s important that everybody be here for this decision.”

With that, Hanna adjourned the meeting.

 

Chancellor’s letter causes board uproar

Chancellor’s letter causes board uproar

By EDDIE CELAYA 

A Pima Community College board member suggested Chancellor Lee Lambert may have abused his authority when Lambert sent an envoy to represent the college and governing board at a Tucson Unified School District meeting.

You need to know that I am disturbed by you taking the liberty to send this letter out on behalf of PCC on PCC letterhead that gives the impression that the entire board is in agreement.” – Luis Gonzales, Governing Board representative
Photo courtesy of Luis Gonzales 

MESSAGE DELIVERED

The affair was set in motion by a Feb. 27 email sent by TUSD Governing Board member Kristel Ann Foster to Lambert soliciting community support for thensuperintendent H.T. Sanchez.

“Please write the board and come to the meeting Tuesday, Feb. 28, at 5:30 p.m.,” Foster wrote. Sanchez, who had been embattled for weeks up to that point, resigned before the start of the meeting.

In an email interview with the Aztec Press, Lambert said PCC representatives “learned of Dr. Sanchez’s resignation when the TUSD Board meeting began.”

During that meeting, Special Assistant to the Chancellor Esperanza Duarte spoke during the public comment period of the meeting.

“I’m here on behalf of and at the request of Chancellor Lee Lambert,” Duarte said. “As well as the governing board of Pima Community College in support of Dr. Sanchez.”

Duarte continued, reading from a prepared letter. She said Sanchez had been integral in working together with PCC in furthering both institutions’ aims.

Contacted by the Aztec Press, Duarte refused to confirm who authorized her to speak on behalf of the board.

“I can’t get into that, all I can tell you is there was a miscommunication,” Duarte said by phone. “You’ll need to speak with the college spokesperson.”

It was also unclear why Duarte was asked to deliver the message at the Feb. 28 meeting since TUSD board members were already in possession of the letter.

“My statement was not about what was going on at TUSD, it was simply to pony out we have a grew relationship and we want to make sure that continues.” – Lee Lambert, Pima Community College chancellor
Aztec Press file photo

BOARD BLOW-BACK

On Feb. 28, PCC Board member Sylvia Lee received a forwarded email from Assistant to the Chancellor Gaby Echavarri containing Lambert’s letter. Lee in turn forwarded that email on to the TUSD board at 1:57 p.m.

PCC board member Luis Gonzales said in a March 1 email to Lambert that the board never agreed to send a letter of solidarity regarding Sanchez, or to have a college representative invoke the support of the board.

“You need to know that I am disturbed by you taking the liberty to send this letter out on behalf of PCC on PCC letterhead that gives the impression that the entire board is in agreement,” Gonzales wrote.

Gonzales also voiced his displeasure about being perceived as politically interjecting on the college’s part.

“To get involved in a political dog fight where we have no jurisdiction is not only shortsighted but fraught with all kinds of political fall-out against the college and our governing body,” he wrote.

THE CHANCELLOR’S DEFENSE

Lambert responded, defending his decision to issue the letter by citing Board Policy, Section 1, part F. The policy states that the chancellor “serves as the primary spokesperson for the college to the students, employees, government authorities.”

On March 1, governing board Chairman Mark Hanna confirmed in an email to Gonzales that he had spoken with the chancellor regarding Sanchez, with a caveat.

“I asked the chancellor if he would consider a letter of support (explicitly not a board endorsement),” Hannah wrote. “If indeed Ms. Duarte voiced support for the superintendent from our board, that was not authorized by me.”

While Hanna did not view his conversation as authorizing the letter from Lambert to TUSD, an email exchange between Lambert and college vice chancellor Lisa Brosky shows Lambert viewed the conversation differently.

“The board chair ask (sic) me to consider this,” Lambert wrote. “He did not direct me to do this on behalf of the college or in my own personal capacity. I let him know I would do this on behalf of the college.”

During the PCC board of governors meeting on March 8, Lambert offered another defense of his actions. “Unfortunately, there was a miscommunication that happened between myself, and I’ll own that.”

It was unclear with whom the “miscommunication” he referenced happened between.

However, Lambert insisted his motives were not political. “My statement was not about what was going on at TUSD, it was simply to point out we have a great relationship and we want to make sure that continues,” he said.

AN INVALUABLE PARTNER

The letter itself and internal PCC emails tell a different story. While the letter does make mention of the relationship between the two institutions, each reference is in the context of how beneficial Sanchez was to the relationship.

In regards to PCC’s Career and Technical Education program, Lambert wrote that Sanchez has helped build the pipeline of students from high school to college.

“Dr. Sanchez’s support has strengthened PCC’s efforts to expand access to students seeking careers,” Lambert wrote.

In her email to the TUSD board, Lee referenced the chancellor’s letter. “I hope you will take what our chancellor said to heart,” Lee wrote. “Which is to keep Dr. Sanchez as your superintendent.”

The letter ends with Lambert calling Sanchez an “invaluable partner,” to the college.

“I look forward to future collaborations with him as we work together in service to our students and community,” he wrote.

COPY OF LETTER

PCCLetterforHTSanchez 2-28-17

Rillito Park gets back on track

Rillito Park gets back on track

By EDDIE CELAYA

Two quarter horses gallop the final stretch at Rillito Park Raceway in the first race of the day. Rillito Park Raceway opened back in 1943.
Eddie Celaya / Aztec Press

Odds are if you tell a Tucsonan you plan to watch some horseracing, the response will be, “have fun in California.”

If you tell the person, no, you’ll be enjoying the sport of kings in the Old Pueblo, you’ll probably get a “Where? At the dog track?”

Such is the battle for Rillito Park Racetrack, which wrapped up its season March 19. The track bills itself as the “birthplace of quarterhorse racing in the United States.”

That history gives the place both its charm and its recent headaches.

PRESERVING HISTORY

General Manager Mike Weiss, an Ohio native who now lives in Florida, wasn’t even sure there would be a racing season this year. Pima County, which owns the land on which the track sits, didn’t extend the racing lease until January.

Track executives expected approval in 2016. “I told them in September, ‘If you don’t have an extension, you can’t keep putting money into it,’” Weiss said.

Rillito Racing Inc. is the management end of the Rillito Park Foundation, a nonprofit in charge of running the racetrack. Without a lease extension, racing would come to an end due to competing county interests, specifically the need for more soccer fields.

The county board of supervisors voted unanimously in January to extend RRI’s lease for four years, through 2021. “We have a new lease on life, pardon the pun,” Weiss said.

‘A WORKING LAB’

On top of entertainment and historical value, the racetrack’s day-to-day operations provide an educational aspect. The University of Arizona’s Racetrack Industry Program helps staff nearly all race-day positions.

“Almost 20 kids work here, we have made it a working lab,” Weiss said. “I have handicappers in the paddock for TV; they’re all students doing the morning line odds. You name it, and the students are involved.”

UA junior Amy Euler worked in admissions last year. The job includes putting together the day’s racing program and betting program. She also made sure everyone in the clubhouse had a wristband.

This year her title was “racing ambassador,” a role that doesn’t list precise duties. Euler said she found herself “basically helping out with groups a lot. Any area or group that needs extra help with something.”

That help usually meant explaining how to place bets, Euler said, but she performed more pressing chores as well.

“I’m helping the camera guy in the paddock not get trampled by horses,” she said.

Euler sees her time in the program as a stepping- stone to a career in the racing industry.

“I would love to be a trainer, more hands-on with the horses,” she said.

She also looks forward to shedding stereotypes still prevalent in the stables.

“There are not very many women in the industry, especially the equine side,” she said. “I don’t want to say it’s a man’s job but it’s definitely not traditional for women, and I kind of want to break down that barrier.”

RACE-DAY EXPERIENCE

Rillito Park Racetrack isn’t Churchill Downs. And that’s perfectly fine, Weiss says.

“Some of the big tracks around the country would kill to have the crowds and enthusiasm we have,” he said.

An upgraded simulcast system was part of this year’s improved experience. The system allows patrons to bet and watch races happening at tracks across the country, including Saratoga, Santa Ana and Gulfstream Park.

Simulcast helps Rillito as well.

“I’m selling our signal out,” Weiss said. “Rillito is all over the world. There are outlets in Austria, Germany and Hong Kong taking our signal.”

Weiss also added two Fridays to this season’s racing schedule, a spin on promotions he used to run at Beulah Park in Columbus, Ohio.

Rillito Park Racetrack happens to fall right in the middle of horseracing season, both geographically and calendar-wise.

“There is a need in the industry for a bridge track,” Weiss said. “The tracks out east are all done, the tracks in California are finishing up; and all of a sudden there is this big gap of no racing. You can take the signal and sell it.”

GO, BABY, GO

Weiss likes to tell a story about a highlevel racing executive who visited Rillito recently. The executive was usually uptight and very well-dressed.

While walking through the grandstands, Weiss ran into the man.

“I saw him standing in the corner, pair of shorts, T-shirt and a beer,” Weiss said. “And I go, ‘What are you doing here?’ He travels internationally, works with the tracks in France, and he goes: ‘I love this place, I just love the atmosphere.’”

Deidre Harris, a clubhouse server and a winter visitor by way of Montana, helped that atmosphere along each weekend. “I just love Tucson and this track,” she said.

After her husband retired from the National Park Service, the two decided to explore the country and head for more temperate climates. The only rule? “Just to do something different than we normally do,” Harris said.

“I mean, it really is probably the funniest job ever,” she said of her Rillito gig. “It’s fun to watch the people and then when the horses come around and half of them are cheering and half of them are like ohhhh.”

Weiss sees his job as a form of service.

“What we are doing, we are doing for the community,” he said. “You don’t get that too many places.”

A handler walks a quarter horse around the paddock area before a there furloughs stakes race.
Eddie Celaya / Aztec Press


RACING BY THE NUMBERS

Compiled by Eddie Celaya

1867**

Year the inaugural Belmont Stakes was run. Ruthless won.

1873**

Year the Preakness Stakes race was introduced. Survivor won.

1875*

Inaugural year of the Kentucky Derby. Aristides won.

1919**

Year Sir Barton won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes, completing what became known as “the Triple Crown” of U.S. horse racing.

0**

Number of fillies (female horses) that have won the Triple Crown.

2*

Number of times Tiznow won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the only horse to do so.

8*

Number of furloughs in a mile.

12**

Number of Triple Crown-winning horses. They are: Sir Barton, Gallant Fox, Omaha, War Admiral, Whirlaway, Count Fleet, Assault, Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed and American Pharoah.

31**

Number of lengths Secretariat finished ahead of the competition at the Belmont Stakes in 1973. Nicknamed “Big Red,” Secretariat is the only non-human voted onto ESPN’s 100 Greatest Athletes of the Twentieth Century.

4,870*

Number of races won by English jockey Sir Gordon Richards, a record.

Sources:

* lastwordonsports.com/2013/04/10/40-completely-random-yet-amazing-horse-racing-facts

** history.com/news/horse-racings-triple-crown-10-fast-facts

SUNDAY SPECIAL: The Obama admin. may have tapped Trump (But it’s a good thing)

SUNDAY SPECIAL: The Obama admin. may have tapped Trump (But it’s a good thing)

By EDDIE CELAYA

Donald Trump may not be all wrong this time. But he just may be shooting himself in the foot. Actually, we may have the beginnings of a farewell-letter to the greatest American political suicide since Richard Nixon.

Let’s recap. After a month that saw National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resign for lying about phone-calls with Russian officials, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any Trump-Russia investigations for the same reasons.

Then Trump seemingly went off the deep end.

“How low has President Obama gone to tapp (sic) my phones during the very sacred election process,” Trump tweeted at 6:30 AM on March 4 from Mar-a-Lago. “This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”

The tweet is a bombshell of an allegation. A sitting president accusing his predecessor of wire-tapping is indeed Nixonian.

Reactions from both sides were swift and predictable. Democrats and their allies gave the old “there you go again,” head shake you give to a puppy who won’t stop shitting on the couch.

After all, Trump (as always) disobeyed the first law of high school English teachers: cite your source.

Trump associates and apologists either took the Donald’s assertion as The Word handed down form on high, or pointed to a March 3 Breitbart article that seems to be the genesis for Trump’s claim.

The article, which may require visiting Breitbart without being within five minutes’ drive of a shower, is basically a lazy timeline linking to actual reporting done by credible news organizations. It is easily the best piece of writing I’ve ever come across on Breitbart.

The most interesting link (which also happens to be the only one directly connected to Trump’s wire-tap assertion) redirects to an article by former British politician Louise Mensch on her website HeatStreet.

Citing two unnamed sources, Mensch writes that on two separate occasions, the FBI requested a warrant be issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to “examine the activities of ‘U.S. persons’ in Donald Trump’s campaign with ties to Russia.”

Note, not Trump himself, but people involved with his campaign.

On the first occasion, in June 2016, the FBI was denied because the request was too broad according to the article. The second request, however, was reportedly granted.

“The second was drawn more narrowly and was granted in October after evidence was presented of a server,” Mensch writes. “And its alleged links to two banks; SVB Bank and Russia’s Alfa Bank.

The importance of this FISC warrant can’t be understated. First, the President can request a FISC warrant, but it seems that in this case, it wasn’t the president, but a federal intelligence agency (the FBI) that made the request.

Second, even if Obama had some involvement requesting the warrant, it would not have been granted had the government not been able to prove that “U.S. Person’s” within Trump’s campaign had at least been in contact with somebody in Russia.

Some conservatives have argued that the FISC is easy to manipulate, or that the Obama administration was involved in a witch-hunt, citing the failed first request for a warrant as evidence.

If anything, it’s actually further evidence in the case to indict Trump. Note that the FBI tightened their noose around contacts between Trump Tower and Russian banks. The court likely was presented evidence alleging some sort of transaction(s) that smell.

So was Trump’s tweet just a sloppy attempt to deflect attention from the Sessions’ scandal by deflecting blame to Obama, even though it really just outs him as being the subject of a legal federal investigation?

Sort of.

I actually think Trump is deflecting. Not in response to current allegations against Flynn and Sessions, but against an anticipated (and I believe, highly probable) revelation dealing with Trump’s taxes and his ties business ties to unsavory figures in Moscow.

Whatever the reason, Trump has ensured the country of one thing. He who lives by the tweet, dies by the tweet.

Sad.

Athletics audit suggests changes in record-keeping

Athletics audit suggests changes in record-keeping

By EDDIE CELAYA

An internal audit of Pima Community College athletics department business practices found late deposits, lax internal controls and improperly stored athletes’ documents.

The audit said current studentathlete’s files are properly secured at the Downtown Campus, but older records dating to the 1980s are kept in two separate broom closets in the West Campus gymnasium.

In an on-site interview at the gym, PCC Athletics Director Edgar Soto acknowledged the issues contained in the report.

“All of these things are issues we asked to be addressed,” he said. “We asked for this audit.”

A Finance and Audit Committee composed of college employees and community members conducted the audit last year, and issued its final report on Dec. 2. The newest audit was a follow-up to a larger November 2015 audit.

The report notes that since the initial audit, Soto and other high-ranking administrators have “updated management corrective action plans to address issues identified” within the audit.

The recent audit found problems with the athletics department’s timeliness in depositing donation checks. Eight of the 68 donation deposits reviewed by the audit took 30 days or longer to deposit.

Soto said new controls are being put in place to avoid such long delays, and offered an explanation for some deposits seeming to take more than a month.

“Sometimes when a parent is donating, they write a check in their checkbook and they don’t get it to the coach for a week or two,” he said. “They might date it today, but don’t get around to actually donating for a little bit.”

Similarly, “sometimes coaches throw checks into their games bags and don’t get around to checking it all in for a few days,” he said.

The audit also cited delays in processing receipts from game concessions. On two occasions, “game cash receipts deposits were not processed within three business days per cash handling procedures,” it notes.

Athletics Director Edgar Soto displays archived awards and articles
dating back to the 1970s. The archives were stored with student records.
Eddie Celaya / Aztec Press

Soto said one evening of men’s and women’s basketball games lead to both violations. “I believe that was over Thanksgiving,” he said.

The audit section discussing records for former student-athletes said files were kept in an area where “unauthorized” persons had access to them.

During the on-site interview, Soto allowed the Aztec Press to examine the two storage rooms. Both were locked at the time of the interview and required a key to enter. One room required two doors to be unlocked.

Soto said only athletic department staff have access to the rooms.

“A lot of this stuff is archival materials and trophies,” he said. “All the student info, we are in the process of moving to Downtown Campus.”

Chancellor Lee Lambert, writing in an email sent to PCC employees, said Soto requested the audit “in the spirit of continuous improvement and to address issues revealed in a 2012 audit, prior to Edgar’s leadership role.”

Lambert said the athletics department has made progress on issues identified in both audits, and has developed a timeline for implementing remaining changes.

“Frankly, this demonstrates the importance of having multiple layers of assurance,” Lambert wrote. “While the process does not always work as quickly as we might like, our detailed system of checks and balances worked as it should.”

With the spring athletic season in full swing and both basketball programs closing out historic seasons, Soto hopes the audit and its findings help improve the department.

“We’re just trying to provide the community with an idea of what’s going on in athletics,” he said. “We are just trying to stay accountable.”

Former PCC Instructor faces protest charges

Former PCC Instructor faces protest charges

By EDDIE CELAYA

Jenni Monette, who writes under the name Jenni Monet, has a mug shot taken after her arrest at Standing Rock. (Photo courtesy of Jenni Monette)

No one can accuse former Pima Community College journalism instructor Jenni Monet of staying on the sidelines.

Monet, a native of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo tribe, recently added a new line to her resume: misdemeanor riot charges.

The charges came while Monet was covering environmental/native-rights protests in Standing Rock, North Dakota, at the site of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Monet has reported from inside the protesters’ camp since last September. She was arrested Feb. 1 while taking pictures and conducting interviews with protesters who were attempting to establish a new camp on private land.

“It was just another demonstration at what was known as the Last Child camp,” she said in a telephone interview. “I was with a group of water protectors to go cover their resistance campaign, like I did in all the other work that I do.

She is facing charges of criminal trespassing and engaging in a riot. Both are Class B misdemeanors and carry a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.

Police accounts depict Monet as uncooperative.

“If she’s claiming she wasn’t warned, that’s absolutely not true,” North Dakota Highway Patrol Lt. Tom Iverson told the Bismarck Tribune.

Iverson told the Tribune he warned Monet, saying, “I understand you’re a journalist, but you’re on private property and need to leave.”

The Morton County Sheriff’s Department issued a statement saying, “After repeated warnings to vacate a camp being illegally set up on private property in southern Morton County, approximately 76 members of a rogue group of protesters were arrested.”

Monet asserts she readily identified herself.

“When asked to show my press credentials, I did,” she said. “When asked to step back from the police line, I did. And when asked to leave, I complied and I was still arrested.”

Authorities have previously arrested at least eight journalists at Standing Rock.

Ironically, the arrest last year of Amy Goodman first shed a national spotlight on the protests. Goodman, a well-known, white, liberal journalist, hosts the syndicated radio program “Democracy Now.”

Media outlets quickly took up Goodman’s plight, with publications such as the New York Times, Salon and Variety criticizing governmental overreach.

Monet’s struggle with local authorities has not piqued the same interest. “And we’re both charged with the same thing,” she noted.

“I think it’s indicative of how big media has handled the story out here at Standing Rock,” Monet said. “It’s on the reservation, it’s one of those stories that I think is generalized a lot.”

Stories supporting Monet have appeared in Yes! Magazine and the Columbia Journalism Review, but the mainstream press has been slow to champion her story.

When the Los Angeles Times ran a story about Monet by freelance reporter Sandy Tolan, it published a photo of Goodman.

“Showing a white women in a profile piece about me, where I am completely absent, that’s not OK,” Monet said. “It’s wrong and would be the case for any profile piece. You just don’t. It’s 101 stuff.”

Web publications such as the Center for Investigative Reporting and Native-media outlets like High Country News and Native News Online have all stepped up for Monet, making it clear they find her charges unacceptable.

For her part, Monet has not let her arrest and pending court date affect her work.

“I’ve worked very diligently to build strong relationships here at the tribal, state, county level,” she said. “I will continue to maintain these relationships to report at a very critical time.”

The tenor of the protests began shifting after Donald Trump became president, Monet said

“I think there is a small sense of defeat among the water protectors,” she said.

It changed again when authorities began the process of removing protesters from their camps.

“People are feeling a little bit of loss, but also some last-minute attempts to kind of stand ground,” Monet said.

With all the uncertainty, Monet remains focused on reporting.

“I’m hoping that the charges get dropped and I can get back to work,” she said.

 

Jenni Monet Bio:

Jenni Monet is a freelance journalist who specializes in covering indigenous peoples, both in the United States and internationally. Before becoming a freelancer, Monet worked as a TV news anchor for a CBS affiliate, and as a reporter for Al Jazeera. She also taught Journalism 101 and 102 at West Campus last semester.

HOWS THAT MINIMUM WAGE LAW WORKING?: Spike may actually limit number of jobs

HOWS THAT MINIMUM WAGE LAW WORKING?: Spike may actually limit number of jobs

By DAVID W. SKINNER

The minimum wage rate in Arizona has risen from $8.50 to $10 since Jan. 1 and will continue to rise 50 cents each year until the minimum wage reaches $12 by the year 2020.

This isn’t going to work. Raising the minimum wage will put people out of work.

Before voters approved the Proposition 206 wage increase, businesses kept many people on staff at $8.50 an hour. Employees worked shifts throughout the week, whether they were a student, a working mother or a father with a second job trying to pay the bills.

With the pay raise, companies that already could barely afford their overhead are looking at layoffs or reduced hours.

I wish state voters had been more diligent before approving this plan.

We all know businesses are going to do what’s best for their bottom line. As an employee, I hear all the time how my company cares about its employees and all that nonsense.

But now is when we get to see a business’ true intentions.

Surprisingly enough, it’s to make money.

If making money takes firing people in order for those corporate suits to cash their quarterly bonus, they won’t even think twice.

To the everyday working man or woman who depends on part-time jobs to pay the

bills, having to replace those lost hours with another part-time job is going to be much harder due to a company’s requirement to hire an entry-level employee at $10 compared to $8.50.

The company will hire fewer people for those part-time jobs and some workers will be left out in the cold.

As a state, Arizona needs more companies to want to move here. Occupants of this beautiful state must be able to work and live in comfort.

The minimum wage increase adds another roadblock for companies planning to move their business operation to the Tucson area.

Bringing new jobs to the Tucson community shows other companies that Arizona is a great home base. I just don’t think raising the minimum wage was a step in that direction.

Making sudden, drastic changes without any real adjustment period or plan has left employers all over Arizona having to make hard decisions.

Arizona should want its working people to make money, not lose their jobs entirely.

 

David Skinner is a journalist major whose opinions are just as bad as his writing style. He loves long walks on the beach but hates getting sand in his shoes. Do not follow him on twitter @daveyskins_.

Potential tuition hike on governing board agenda

Potential tuition hike on governing board agenda

By EDDIE CELAYA

The Pima Community College Board of Governors will consider raising in-state tuition and cutting employee benefits at its next meeting.

The March 8 meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. in the Community Board Room (Building C) at the District Office complex, 4095 E. Broadway Blvd.

TUITION DISCUSSION

The governing board might decide to increase tuition by $7 per credit hour, the college’s largest increase ever.

College officials have said budget shortfalls may force a tuition increase. They’ve listed factors such as state funding cutbacks and dwindling enrollment.

David Bea, PCC vice chancellor for finance, presented three budget scenarios to the Board of Governors last December. One scenario included a $7 per-credit-hour increase in tuition. The two other scenarios both proposed a $3 increase.

College spokeswoman Libby Howell said the proposals are just that: proposals. “It could be a $7 increase, yes,” she said. “It could just as easily stay the same or fall somewhere in between.”

In a typical year, the governing board schedules a study session devoted solely to tuition a month before its public vote, Howell said.

That didn’t happen this year.

“There was no study session on just tuition,” she said. “There was a budget session, and it was during that time they discussed and included tuition rates for the March meeting.”

Board chairman Mark Hanna said he is “concerned we’re voting on a tuition increase before we actually have taken a look at what we’re going to do to reduce costs.”

Hanna has voted against tuition increases the last two years.

“It’s the most important issue I have to deal with each year, because I know how it affects our students,” he said.

The governing board voted last March to decrease international tuition from $5,280 to $4,500 for a full schedule of classes, a drop of nearly 15 percent.

Hanna said the board’s 2016 vote doesn’t cheat in-state students by giving big breaks to international students. He argued it simply levels the playing field for all non-residential students.

“We are treating everybody who is not a resident of Arizona or Pima County the same,” he said.

EMPLOYEE BENEFITS

The governing board will also be asked to approve contracts for employee benefits.

The board typically takes into account information from both employee groups and the administration when deciding the best course for benefit packages, according to Howell.

“Much like with tuition, the board can either vote to increase or decrease the cost and type of benefits packages,” she said. “It’s all related to the budget.”
Hanna, citing a presentation given by Bea, said the cost of employee benefits is high.

“Obviously, health insurance is the highest percentage of that,” he said.

The cost must ultimately be shared, Hanna said.

“Then we would make a decision based on how to adjust the cost to the “how much the college shares versus how much employees share,” he said.

FROM THE EDDIE-TOR: We promise indepth news coverage

FROM THE EDDIE-TOR: We promise indepth news coverage

Eddie “Eddie-tor” Celaya

By EDDIE CELAYA

Let me start off by saying it’s good to be back in my old Eddie-tor spot. For that, a big thanks is in order to current editor-in-chief Melina Casillas. The content of the paper will only get better under her leadership.

Thank co-photo editor Kate Roberts for the paper’s clean, hip new look. With a new streamlined flag and modern headline font, we think the physical characteristics of the paper are finally ready for the 21st century.

Ashley Muñoz is Roberts’ co-editor partner-in-crime. As crazy as they are talented, the duo will keep improving the newspaper’s artistic direction.

In the news department, yours truly is running the show. The Aztec Press will deliver indepth coverage of major issues affecting students: accreditation, administrator/faculty issues and a potential rise in tuition.

This issue alone contains multiple stories that affect the entire college community, including Brianna Hernandez’ story on PCC budget woes, Dale Villeburn Old Coyote’s piece on a STEM grant awarded to East Campus and my accreditation update.

Since I’m also overseeing our opinion section, you can expect analysis of news happening locally and nationwide.

In this issue, Erik Medina talks about the advantages of being bilingual and Elise Stahl encourages readers to challenge themselves. Meanwhile, I dive deeper into my recent interview with Chancellor Lee Lambert.

Our arts and entertainment coverage has also undergone a change, with Robyn Zelickson taking the reins from longtime editor Travis Braasch. We’ll miss his indepth band profiles but Zelickson will keep arts in the spotlight.

What would a news publication be without sports? Casey “and the sunshine band” Muse Jr. is ready for every sport. With coverage from preseason to playoffs, our sports section will be a one-stop shop.

There is bitter sweetness to this semester, however. Our faculty adviser, Cynthia Lancaster, will retire in May. She won’t ever admit it, but we’re pretty sure she’ll miss us as much as we’ll miss her. Love ya, Cynthia.

It’s up to us to ensure her legacy. The world may be a little more scary and orange, but we’ll be here in the newsroom.

Lancaster’s eternal words will continue to guide us: “Deadline is Friday at 9 a.m. Not a minute later!”

Ex-Pima student can ‘sea’ opportunities

Ex-Pima student can ‘sea’ opportunities

By EDDIE CELAYA

 

If the late-1980s smash hit “The Little Mermaid” is to be believed, “flapping your fins, you don’t get too far.”

Tell that to former Pima Community College student Emy Higdon.

Higdon holds an associate of applied science in business, with a concentration in marketing. Odette holds court over the dry rivers and lakebeds of the Sonoran Desert.

Who is Odette? That would be Higdon’s part-time alter ego, Mermaid Odette. The character came into being at an intersection of creativity and entrepreneurial spirit.

Higdon traces Mermaid Odette’s genesis to her childhood.

“As a kid, I was always really creative,” she said. “Super creative, really.”

She needed an outlet, and found a Tucson performance space known for being off the beaten path.

“I volunteered at Valley of the Moon, and that place sparked my imagination to a new level,” she said.

Her first visit planted the idea for adopting a mermaid alter ego.

“I got to help someone make a tail for a show,” she said. “It was just made of a simple, silvery kind of weird fabric, but it just kind of sparked from there.”

She created Mermaid Odette in 2009, and took the character public soon after. Coincidentally, her first performance happened to be at Valley of the Moon.

“It was a screening of a movie,” she said. “I had a little inflatable pool near the witches’ cauldron area and would splash my fin and get on top of the cement wall and flick my tail at the kids and they would smile at me. So after that I was like, ‘yep, I’m hooked.’”

Parties and other events soon followed.

One happy parent, Jenni Sunshine, happily recounts her 8-year-old daughter’s birthday party in an online review.

“She told interesting stories and answered their every question,” Sunshine wrote. “Perhaps even more important is that Mermaid Odette is a delightful woman who I trust to set exactly the right tone with kids.”

Though she loved doing birthday parties, Higdon felt she needed something. She changed her major from veterinary science and began to focus on business.

“A lot of different classes gave me the best foundation,” she said. “Accounting was absolutely perfect.”

Classes at Pima helped “clarify different parts of how you present yourself and what kind of business you’re looking for and your target audience,” she said.

Those lessons helped Higdon grow her business. They also helped with developing Return of the Mermaids, an annual event held in downtown Tucson and along the Fourth Avenue entertainment district.

“I was their head mermaid entertainer for years and I am super thankful for being a part of it,” she said.

The event has grown each year since its inception in 2013.

“I remember the first year, out of nowhere, just some people coming in to see me splash my tail and then going around to other places,” she said. “Every year I see more and more people and it’s so amazing to see all the different costumes.”

And while Higdon continues focusing on business while seeking a bachelor’s degree from Northern Arizona University, Odette will continue offering performances that make people of all ages believe.

“I’ve always had a want to build some sort of character that was unique, fun, interesting,” Higdon said. “The whole point is to give the experience that will make the customer the most happy, that will be the most memorable.”


Emy Higdon continues her business studies, now at Northern Arizona University.
Eddie Celaya/Aztec Press

 

Pima Community College business graduate Emy Higdon performs as Mermaid Odette while entertaining a young girl at a birthday party.
Photo courtesy of Joelle Higdon

Chancellor must add constituent empathy to his ledger approach

Chancellor must add constituent empathy to his ledger approach

By EDDIE CELAYA

I recently had an opportunity to sit down for wide-ranging interviews with numerous Pima Community College decision makers, including Chancellor Lee Lambert. You can find portions of my interviews in our reporting throughout this issue.

A page 7 story by Brianna Hernandez focuses on college budget woes. It details three possible budget scenarios that Pima is considering.

My Higher Learning Commission story on pages 8-9 spotlights the college’s fight against accreditation sanctions.

These stories open a window into the inner workings of the bureaucracy that makes Pima run (or not run, depending on your point of view). This piece focuses on the last part of my conversation with the chancellor.

If you asked me to characterize the overall tone of our chat, I would call it educational and friendly. I allowed the chancellor wide latitude in answering questions at length, and he allowed me to interject for followups where required.

I found Lambert to be collegial, intelligent and well spoken. I also found some of his answers aloof to the concerns and views of average students.

When talk turned to Pima’s tuition rates, things got interesting. The chancellor began by referencing the Strategic Enrollment Management Plan. The SEMP acts as a guide for college enrollment priorities.

“We have also looked at, ‘How do we strengthen attracting out-of-state and international students?’” Lambert said. “Never though, and this is key, at the expense of the local students.”

Reasonable enough. Then he continued.

“Because on the international students, those students pay the actual cost of what it means to come to Pima,” he said. “They aren’t being subsidized by the taxpayer. They are paying what an individual student ought to pay.”

Perhaps the chancellor needs reminding. Most in-state students are Pima County residents. That makes them, and their families, taxpayers. You could even say they “subsidize” the chancellor’s salary.

Lambert ended his answer by asserting that concerns about the contrast in tuition rates between in state and out-of-state were “simplistic characterizations.” He continued to insist out-of-state students are “paying the true cost of the education.”

When I pushed back, asking if he could understand the frustration among students and other local constituencies in seeing their tuition rise while non-local students see theirs fall, the chancellor again was tone deaf.

“I can understand that but also, they should want to come and understand this on a much more sophisticated level,” he said.

That answer doesn’t just sound elitist. It is elitist.

To suggest the public should be “more sophisticated” elicits the worst ivory-tower stereotypes of academia. It implies not only that you’re right, but also that you’re right because everyone else is dumb.

Our conversation then turned to potential campus closings. Were campuses being considered for closure? Which ones? Would that require a reduction in instructors and staff?

No campus closures yet, Lambert said. Just a restructuring of how and where general education classes are held.

But about those staff reductions?

His reply: “There is a mythology at Pima that no one has ever been laid off, OK?”

Lambert again said he didn’t want layoffs, but “we are just running out of real estate for that.”

I’m not sure local advocacy groups like C-FAIRR (not to mention students both current and potential), don’t have “sophisticated” arguments on tuition.

And I’m not convinced that employee groups such as PCCEA and ACES are turning to supposed myths about Pima never having laid anyone off.

I am sure the chancellor first approaches problems from a financial perspective.

“I have a fiduciary responsibility to this community that we will run a financially healthy organization,” he said.

That’s not a bad thing in and of itself. However, if recent spats with the college’s employee associations are any evidence, the chancellor will need to use more honey than vinegar to effectively set his agenda.

Lambert is far from being the most out-of-touch executive in charge of an academic institution. University of Arizona president Ann Weaver Hart takes home all the awards for that.

Nevertheless, PCC needs more than a ledger-keeper to take it into the future.

It needs a leader who does more than acknowledge local constituencies. A true leader must embrace them and their specific needs.

Lambert faces three big showdowns within the next six months.

The first is with the HLC. Lambert has proven effective in dealing with the accrediting body, so credit is due there.

The other two battles, a meet-and-confer fight with employee associations and a decision on tuition, will require Lambert to leave his policy wonk comfort zone. He should attempt a hearts-and-minds campaign with the public.

His handling of these issues will do more than determine Lambert’s legacy in Tucson. It will also determine the length of his stay.

College in stretch run with accreditor

College in stretch run with accreditor

By EDDIE CELAYA

Former Chancellor Roy Flores packs his office early on March 1, 2012. Flores was expected to retire, but instead renegotiated his contract to receive a 3-5 month paid medical leave. (Shannon McBride-Olson/PCC 2012)

After nearly five years of sanctions, Pima Community College is waiting on its accrediting body to decide its fate. That ruling is expected when the Higher Learning Commission’s board of trustees meets Feb. 23-24.

The saga began in the summer of 2012 with numerous complaints, including allegations of sexual misconduct against then-Chancellor Roy Flores.

A team of HLC peer reviewers visited Pima in January 2013. That visit led the HLC to issue a scathing report and place the college on probation. Flores later resigned, citing ill health.

Since that time, PCC has struggled to shed the burden of sanctions. In 2015, the college escaped probation but was placed “on notice.”

Last September, another HLC peer review team visited the college. Pima officials hoped the team would recommend removing sanctions.

PCC Board of Governors Chair Mark Hanna thought the college presented its best case during the visit.

“The visit was a really positive visit,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I thought there was a moral uplift.”

AWAITING DRAFT REPORT

The wait for the team’s draft report prompted worries, with Hanna describing it as akin to “old movies where the pages keep coming off the calendar and waiting, and waiting.”

Vice Chancellor of Accreditation Bruce Moses, however, suspected the draft report simply ran behind schedule. He noted that peer review members are busy with high-level jobs at their own colleges.

“They set a timeline, but it’s just like with anything else,” he said. “These are not retired folks sitting around doing nothing, these are career folks.”

Pima officials received the peer review team’s draft report on Dec. 12. It did not yield a full elimination of sanctions.

“I would be less than honest with you if I didn’t tell you the hope was, ‘Hey, you’re off sanctions, you’re done with it,’” Hanna said. “As it turns out, there were some sticking points.”

Of the 11 areas targeted by the HLC, five were considered “fully addressed,” five were deemed “improving” and one was deemed “deficient.”

Newly hired Chancellor Lee Lambert address college employees on Aug. 23, 2013. (Nellie Silva/Aztec Press 2013)

OFFICE OF ASSESSMENT

The deficiency was in “student outcome assessment,” an area that has been a persistent knock against the college.

Student outcome assessment is more than just tests, according to Chancellor Lee Lambert. It’s making sure basic skills are imparted, and making sure instructors are tracking those skills in an effective manner.

The college is “trying to assess learning relative to that discipline or subject area the student is working on,” Lambert said. “We need to do that in a systematic way, and then the systematic way isn’t just administering the assessment, it is assessing the assessment process itself.”

District 3 board representative and former PCC instructor Sylvia Lee recalled the college’s past struggles.

“Pima was ‘written up,’ that assessment was a ‘weakness’ back in the ‘90s,” she said. “And then back in the 2000s, Pima was put on warning again.”

The HLC’s focus on assessment in the recent draft report was, in fact, actually Pima’s idea.

“Back in 2013, we said to the HLC, ‘We are going to staff an office of assessment,’” Moses said. “So when reviewers showed up in 2016 and we didn’t have a staff, now they are holding our feet to the fire.”

Efforts to establish an office of assessment never got off the ground, Moses said. He blamed a myriad of factors, from the job description to the pay rate. The specter of sanctions didn’t help.

“How attractive is that job, still on probation and it’s one of the main reasons you’re still on probation?” Moses asked. “You think about the applicants, they are thinking ‘man I’m on the firing squad right off.’”

ADDRESSING PROBLEMS

So with what part of assessment, exactly, did the peer review team find fault? Was it the systems and software put in place to track student outcomes? Was it a lack of an established human resources infrastructure? That depends on whom you ask.

Moses, who helped implement many of the assessment systems, points to the HLC’s recent findings. “The reviewers’ feedback didn’t say ‘your processes are crappy, your system is not working,’” he said.

Instead, Moses said, the criticism focused on human resources.

“One of the things we had a problem with as an institution is, we had never put the infrastructure in to actually manage and facilitate the student learning outcomes assessment process.”

New governing board member Luis Gonzales takes a different view. He points out that while only the student outcome assessment was found to be deficient, problems remain with the five areas deemed “improving” in the report.

“That one particular item is an item of focus that falls into line with the rest of the lines of focus,” Gonzales said. “Of the 11 areas of focus, six are inadequate. If you got a test with 11 questions and you fail six, it’s not a passing grade.”

The draft report also called on the college to make new hires at the administrative level.

“The college should submit an interim report by Sept. 1, 2017, documenting that the director of assessment and the research analyst have been hired and are in place,” it reads.

The position of director of assessment has been filled since the peer review team’s visit in September. Former chemistry instructor Wendy Weeks officially took that role on Jan. 3.

Moses said the research analyst position has been filled, but the college has not yet made an official announcement.

The two hires will put PCC over the sanctions edge, he said. “That’s what the reviewers want to see. They want to say ‘OK, you made a commitment to putting people in a position to manage this process.’”

Gonzales isn’t so sure.

“The spin is that the entire focus goes to assessment only and that we have made so much progress, that it all focuses on whether or not we hire two individuals to run that program,” he said. “I simply do not agree with that concept in its entirety.”

Gonzales said he was not implying Weeks “is not competent.” Rather, he is “concerned that it should be an individual who has experience and has a good foundation to make it work.”

GOALS AND ACTIVITIES

According to the draft report, the new hires should “include a description of the goals these individuals have set, and the activities they have implemented since they have assumed their position.”

That won’t be a problem, Moses said. “We’ve had goals, even before we had a position. The office of assessment had the goals, it’s built in.”

Lambert echoed those sentiments. “We already have goals identified for them, now it’s just monitoring fulfillment of these goals,” he said.

Goals and activities vary in range and scope.

The college’s strategic planning report lists broad goals for the office of assessment, including a call to “increase the rate at which students with a transfer goal successfully transfer to a four-year college/university.”

The tool used to measure progress is known as a Key Performance Indicator. In the case of the office of assessment, there are multiple KPIs.

For example, one KPI measures the effectiveness of the transfer rate from PCC to four-year colleges by tracking the distribution of former PCC students at in-state four-year institutions.

Another KPI tracks the number of students who indicate they intend to transfer and then successfully do so.

The HLC will be looking at evidence derived from data gathered in the last six months, according to Lambert.

“I think six months will show we are making pretty good progress along that continuum,” he said.

THE FINAL REPORT

The college received the HLC peer review team’s final report on Jan. 27. Pima had two weeks to review the report and send a reply either agreeing with or dissenting from the findings.

That reply will be the last correspondence between the college and its accreditor until Feb. 23, when the Commission’s board of trustees meets.

The final report could have three possible outcomes, according to HLC liaison Karen Solomon. One possibility is that the HLC will remove the college from notice.

“The board might determine that the college is no longer at risk of noncompliance with the criteria for accreditation and can be removed from notice,” she wrote in a letter accompanying the final report.

Moses sees some hope for that outcome.

“We are going to make an effort to do that,” he said. “There is no guarantee we’ll get it, but we’re going to make that plea.”

The HLC could also make a worst-case ruling. If the board of trustees determines that Pima is unable to demonstrate compliance in multiple areas, the board might determine that the college should be placed back on probation.

That scenario would require a major failure on the part of the college. “We would have to completely drop the ball on something that was already identified,” Moses said.

The most likely scenario, Moses said, is the HLC determining Pima still has work to do in the office of assessment and extending notice for another six months.

“I would accept something like a monitoring report, which is not a sanction,” he said. “It’s just ‘give us a report in six months and tell us how everything is going in this area.’”

STATE OF THE COLLEGE

The HLC’s next scheduled visit will come sometime during the Fall 2018 or Spring 2019 semester. That visit, unlike the last two peer review team visits, will be a “standard” visit.

“That’s the four-year check in,” Lambert said. “That will speak to ‘we put this thing in, is it sustained?’”

Gonzales is cautiously optimistic about Pima’s trajectory.

“We have a lot of work to do,” he said. “I am confident that we are going to get there eventually.”

Moses knows it’s up to the college to change for the better.

“We are in a really good position right now,” he said. “All we got to do is not screw this up.”


Click for full-size graphic

By EDDIE CELAYA

Pima County Community College Board of Governors meetings are generally dull as dirt. It’s just short of a rule. Watching paint dry is a cinematic experience compared to your average board meeting. Which is why, at the Board of Governors first meeting on Jan. 11, I was so surprised to see a scene more befitting the living room of Vito Corleone on the day of his daughter’s wedding.

While all the big headlines in politics have gravitated towards the insatiable pull known as Trump Inc., the PCC Governing Board underwent quite the shake-up itself over the election season.

Gone are former TUSD counsel Martha Durkin and board mainstay Scott Stewart. In are Meredith Hay and Luis Gonzales.

Gonzales is not to be confused with the famed Arizona Diamondback outfielder that won the World Series with a bloop single. However, judging by the crowd and reception Gonzales received, you could understand the confusion.

POINT OF ORDER

The evening began with Board Chair Mark Hanna calling the meeting to order, preceded by the standard election of board officers for the next year. The roles are largely ceremonial, but play a part in who can represent and speak for the board at official events.

The process is usually a dry, bureaucratic, procedural vote. Board member Sylvia Lee nominated Hanna to continue as board chair. Board member Demion Clinco seconded. Then Gonzales spiced things up and interjected.

“Chairmen, a point of order,” Gonzales said. “The bylaws are pretty clear in regard to the nomination of elected officers for the term. It appears we are not going to be following the bylaw as written. The bylaw I see here in front of me says that board members shall rotate (positions).”

The other board members seemed befuddled; the audience perplexed.

After getting clarification from PCC attorney Jeff Silvyn, the board continued the vote. That is, after having made a motion to suspend the rotating officers bylaw.

Gonzales had been right.

The message was clear, even though Gonzales said he “had no objection to the process.”

In pointing out the parliamentary error, he made his presence known, signaling the rest of the board he would be a stickler for detail.

DON GONZALES

After the various board officers and committee representatives were decided, the public comment section began.

The first speaker was a man named Robert Sines, a retired schoolteacher. He also happened to have known Gonzales “since the 8th grade in junior high.”

Sines noted his support for Gonzales throughout his political career, and added that Gonzales’ presence on the board “was especially gratifying for us that we have a voice in the Hispanic community.” The conclusion of Sines’ speech met with applause.

Next was Cecilia Cruz, a member of the community group Coalition for Accountability, Integrity, Respect and Responsibility. She claimed to be there for “three reasons: my first is to congratulate Mr. Luis Gonzales on his election to the PCC Board of Governors.”

Cruz continued, hitting on a similar vein as Sines before her. “I, as well as many members of the El Rio Coalition who worked on his campaign, welcome the representation of Chicano and Native peoples that Mr. Gonzales will bring to the college.” Applause, again.

Message sent. Gonzales’ presence on the board stood as a victory to a constituency that up until now had felt ignored and disenfranchised, in a community they see as their own. Sound familiar? If you listen closely, the message is Make Pima Great Again. Too on the nose?

WHO’S THE BOSS

The theme of the night (kissing Gonzales’ ring and reminding the board new eyes are watching) went on for nearly an hour and a half. About a dozen speakers adhered to the theme. Reminding the board they served “the people.”

Local dignitaries ran the gamut, from former TUSD Board member Betts Putnam-Hidalgo to Tucson High sophomore class president Ysmael Ballesteros. Seriously.

Topics from where summer session would be held to the college’s recent HLC news were touched on, but all in the context that the board should have a listen to Gonzales.

“I swear, I have nothing to do with this,” Gonzales said more than once.

A HELPING HAND

But it was the last speaker that woke me from my snarky pessimism. Lenny Mark, the owner of local Chinese restaurant Bamboo Terrace, stepped to the podium. He began by recalling how long he had been a Tucson native and his relationship with Gonzales.

Mark, who was a child, recounted how Gonzales would scare him. “Every time I went to the neighborhood, I didn’t know him, and he always approached me and he would always ask me questions about how I was doing. He always showed concern for me.”

Years later, Mark had a problem. His wife, who had emigrated from China, was in need of help becoming a citizen. “We needed a strong support system. She had no system,” said Mark. “She had nobody. And Luis and Berta, they took us in.”

Mark’s wife is now a U.S citizen. “I love this man and I love this family,” Mark said. It didn’t end there. Mark went on about his experience at Pima. He recounted how he had bounced around from ASU, UA and eventually to Pima.

On his first day of class, an instructor left an impression on Mark. The instructor let the students speak about what they wanted and what was on their mind.

When it was Mark’s turn he said what was on his mind. “I basically didn’t feel a strong will to live, because I felt like a loser.”

The instructor approached the situation in a unique way. “Instead of engaging me emotionally, he gave me an existential approach. He later gave me a book to read called ‘Man’s Search for Meaning.’”

While he never graduated from Pima, Mark said he credited his success in taking over his family’s restaurant to that class. He even brings any employee interested in enrolling at Pima to a campus and helps them enroll.

I began to cry. Looking around, I saw plenty of others right there with me.

PIMA’S REAL MISSION

I have been on the Board of Governors beat for over a year now. That means I missed out on the contentious board hearings of the early 2010s. By far, this was the most engaging and enlightening board meeting I have attended.

The election of Luis Gonzales to the board signals a new era. While members of the community have always been concerned and fought for a healthy college, some constituencies (large and small) felt left out.

Their concerns are valid, and in Gonzales, the Mexican-American and Native communities have someone to champion their cause on the board. The celebration of Gonzales is legitimate and warranted.

Ultimately, Pima stands to gain from this transfusion of new blood and a possible contrarian voice on the Governing Board. Perhaps it may become even more representative of our diverse city and county.

“PCC is very representative of Tucson, maybe more so than the U of A because a lot of people get degrees and they move on to other cities where they can find ‘opportunities’ as they say. But PCC is Tucson, Arizona,” Mark said.


Luis Gonzales brings a new face and constituency to the PCC board of governors.
Eddie Celaya / Aztec Press


Pima Board of Governors Chair Mark Hanna, left, chats with new board member and District 3 representative Luis Gonzales. The two met as part of Gonzales’ board orientation.
Eddie Celaya / Aztec Press

 

'Broken' student-vet makes makes most of life

‘Broken’ student-vet makes makes most of life

By ALLIE HOLLER

If you walk into Tucson’s Isle of Games on a Sunday, you’ll find Pima Community College student Ron Cover.

Cover (pronounced like over) will be in the back of the store with spiders, demons, the occasional elf and a large collection of paints and brushes.

He spends his Sundays painting miniatures for games.

“I have several thousand miniatures,” Cover said. “I like to have them painted when I play.”

His passion for tabletop and role-playing games has spanned decades.

He first discovered the world of tabletop and RPG games in the 1970s and has spent most of his life creating worlds of fantasy as he socializes with friends.

Cover, 56, is a retired Army sergeant who spent four years in Germany from 1982-86. His primary job was to calculate the trajectory of artillery cannons, and he later moved to a position that required top-secret clearance.

“Anything but presidential clearance,” he said.

During his military career, Cover spent most of his time in northern Germany but had the chance to do some traveling in the region. As part of his deployment, he spent a month in a castle that was built in the 1400s.

“Above one of the doors, it had 1492 carved in it,” he said.

Cover was injured during a war game exercise in northern Germany while riding in a vehicle called a “Gamma Goat.” The driver hit a ravine and launched Cover into the air and onto a radio panel. He injured his lower spine.

He didn’t know the severity of the injury at the time and neither did the Army. Cover completed his service but did not make a lifelong career of it due to his injury.

He returned to Tucson, where he had lived since age 10 after his parents relocated from Toledo, Ohio.

Cover attended the University of Arizona and worked in multiple fields while progressively becoming more disabled as a result of his injury.

“I worked with handicapped transport, which I thought was funny,” he said.

He then worked in the insurance industry until his full retirement in 2002.

Over time, Cover’s injury has gotten progressively more serious. He has undergone several surgeries and experimental treatments to help remove and mitigate scar tissue around his spine.

When he’s out of the house, he is mostly confined to a wheelchair.

With help from nonprofit organizations like Disabled American Veterans and from state senators, Cover qualified for full disability from both the military and the Social Security Administration.

Cover’s more recent therapies include a Dorsal Column Stimulation implant, a device designed to treat specific chronic pain afflictions.

Cover was a prime candidate for the treatment, which involves implantation of electrodes to the area near the lower spine and an electric pulse generator to stimulate the area.

“It feels like I am in a vibrating chair from the waist down,” he said. “It works well, but it is more of a distraction from the pain.”

Since becoming fully retired, Cover has been raising his children and attending PCC through the military GI Bill. He has almost completed a liberal arts degree with a focus in world history.

His benefits also helped put his wife and two children through a large portion of school.

Cover has never quit playing games. It is also a family affair, with family members attending conventions and holding regular game nights.

On Sundays, Cover sets up his paints and miniatures and helps other people learn and explore what it takes to paint something not much larger than your thumb. A myriad of paint colors and small brushes make it possible.

Cover assists young and old with painting and other aspects of gaming.

“I’ve been collecting for 20 years,” friend Dave Weir said. “I’ve painted maybe 100. At some point, you have to learn something new.”

At the last Rin-Con multi-day gaming convention, Cover and members of his informal painting club organized a paint-and-take to provide participants with instructions, paints and miniatures.

Various gaming companies donated most of the materials. Cover’s group also arranged for donations that were used as raffle prizes, and intend to do it again in years to come as well as for other conventions in the area.

Why does he spend so much time helping others discover and enjoy games and miniatures?

“I’d rather be doing something than sitting at home,” he said.

“Life is fun, I like to make the most of it,” he added. “I’m broken but life is good.”

Pima student-veteran Ron Cover spends his Sundays painting miniatures for games. (Nicholas Trujillo/Aztec Press)