Mark Stegeman first heard of a blacklist of former Tucson Unified School District employees back in 2009, he estimates.

That was his first full year on the board. Frankly, he wasn’t sure what to believe.

“TUSD is full of rumors, and it’s full of people with complaints, but they’re not all true. It really was just another story,” he said.

He’s not sure if he pressed then-Superintedent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen about it. But he is sure that he asked the next superintendent, John Pedicone, who took over in January 2011. And he asked H.T. Sanchez, who was superintendent from 2013 to 2017.

Now and then through the years, Stegeman heard rumors of the list. Now and then he asked about it. But it took till 2018, nine years after the first whispers, to confirm the list’s existence.

That doesn’t speak well of those in charge during all those years — even Stegeman himself, as he acknowledges.

“Now that we know it was such a big deal, I feel bad we didn’t press harder, earlier,” he said.

Finally revealed by current Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo, the list dates back two decades and contains about 1,400 names, my colleague Hank Stephenson reported. Of those, 516 listings were clearly justified because they were fired for cause or resigned and signed a separation agreement stating they would not work for the district again. The remaining 900 were listed for less clear reasons. Likely, some were justified and some weren’t.

After Trujillo took office, Stegeman asked him about the blacklist and was given a document listing guidelines for putting people on the list that was first written in 2012, then revised in 2014.

It lists these five categories of people ineligible for hire or rehire at TUSD:

a) Former employees who violated District policies and were terminated or resigned in lieu of termination.

b) Former employees placed in the Non-Referred list (AKA 500) files are not eligible for rehire.

c) Applicants who receive poor references may not be eligible for hire.

d) Applicants who cannot clear background checks or obtain a valid IVP Fingerprint Clearance Card are not eligible for hire.

e) Substitutes who have been terminated by the district for performance or conduct related issues could be placed in the non-referred list.

The document says former employees can appeal being placed on the list, but a subsequent set of answers to questions from Stegeman clarifies that former employees were not automatically told they’d been put on the list unless they re-applied and asked.

When I called her Thursday, fellow board member Adelita Grijalva disputed the entire labeling of the list as a “blacklist.” She said, “every district, every organization, every business, has a do-not-rehire list.”

“There are legitimate reasons to have a list like this,” she said. “I’m not saying every name on that list is legit. I’m saying that referring to it as a do-not-hire list is more accurate.”

Over the years, she explained, different standards for documenting why people were put on the list may have been used, meaning valid reasons for listing aren't clear now, years later. 

But I would say it’s just as important to note that this list has been loosely curated for years, and that at least two superintendents, plus numerous board members, declined to take a close look at it even when it was brought to their attention. It’s good Trujillo and Stegeman have made it happen — let’s hope many of those 900 listings turn out to be more justified than they appeared at first glance, and that the rest are removed.

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La Placita demolition

Some people have been sad and even angry to see La Placita Village’s demolition in downtown Tucson this week. I worked there for six years, from 1997-2003, and again in recent years, and I’m not too bothered.

No one I know of argues that it’s a good office structure, which has been its main purpose for years. It was confusing and run down. But some people refer to it with words like “iconic.”

My argument is that it only became “iconic” with its colorful paint job, which local design consultant John Bissell directed back in 1999. I recall watching Bissell waving his arms in La Placita, conducting the painters like they were an orchestra.

Before that, as Bissell told the Tucson Citizen that year, ”It was the color of dirt.” And before that, it was a failed effort at “urban renewal” on the site of old adobes like those you still find in Barrio Historico.

So, if you want another building that’s iconic in the way La Placita was, there’s a simple lesson: Paint it with a lot of bright colors, designed with a little thought and a lot of joy. Instant icon.

LD 10 candidates multiply

Democrats clearly see opportunity in Legislative 10, a district covering the eastern part of town where Democrats dominate the registration but a Republican is in office. Four Democrats have signed up to run, including incumbent Kirsten Engel. Her seatmate is Republican Todd Clodfelter.

The other three are Domingo DeGrazia, Nikki Lee and, most recently, Catherine Ripley.

“It helps everyone’s game when there’s more choice involved,” Ripley told me Thursday. “I think I’m the candidate to beat Todd Clodfelter, which is what the goal is.”

Clodfelter ran into some controversy recently by embracing the Confederate battle flag, but he has also introduced a bill that would likely appeal more to the district’s voters: It would refer to the ballot a proposition making it legal for anyone over age 21 to possess an ounce or less of marijuana, as well as up to six plants.

Contact: tsteller@tucson.com or 807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter

Columnist

Tim Steller is the Star’s metro columnist. A 20-plus year veteran of reporting and editing, he digs into issues and stories that matter in the Tucson area, reports the results and tells you his opinion on it all.