It's been years since former Pima County Supervisor Dan Eckstrom was making regular headlines, but that doesn't mean he's not still making deals.
Consider his consulting work with Pima Community College.
Since 2007, he's billed the school about $235,000, mostly for pitching Pima College projects to the county for its next bond ballot. The consulting gig started small, with Eckstrom billing for about $8,600 in 2007 and nearly $38,000 in 2008. Ever since, it's been just under $50,000 a year.
Eckstrom's work for Pima College varies. He has lobbied for two proposed county bond projects: A $45 million college health campus at the Kino Health Campus complex on the south side and a $4 million adult education center at Freedom Park on the southeast side.
That's the big stuff, but he has billed for small things.
In April 2009, the college paid him to organize a meet-and-greet for Pima's then-new football coach, Pat Nugent. The next month, he billed for thanking people for attending the soiree.
In 2010, he represented the college at Gov. Jan Brewer's State of the State address.
In February 2011 - I laughed when I read this - he billed for "meeting with representatives of Rigo's Restaurant" on the south side. That's like Lute Olson billing the University of Arizona for going to a basketball gym. Rigo's has a salad named for The Eck. Anyway, the Rigo's meeting was to organize an event featuring Tucson Unified School District Superintendent John Pedicone.
But mostly Eckstrom bills Pima College $125 an hour for meetings with local officials, especially those from the county. As a Pima College consultant, he has met with County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry at least 46 times, records show. He charged to meet with his own replacement on the county board, Supervisor Ramón Valadez, at least 43 times. Eckstrom's daughter, Jennifer, is Valadez's executive assistant.
Eckstrom has also met with attorney Larry Hecker, chairman of the Pima County Bond Advisory Committee, at least 33 times.
"I go to all the meetings, and I follow up," Eckstrom told me. "And I guess, like anybody else involved with government relations, you have to deal with the people who are not only the ones who are involved in putting it together, but also the decision makers. And that's what I do."
Before we go any further, a short pause for disclosure: I taught journalism at Pima College last semester but have no plans to teach there again. My mother retired from Pima County a year ago, and my father was faculty at Pima College until retiring two years ago.
Eckstrom played down his clout to me, noting he retired as a county supervisor in 2003.
"You know, how long have I been gone now?" he said. "Nine years. I'm glad people still remember me, though."
Remember? No doubt. Both Hecker and Huckelberry said Eckstrom's position gave him extra access, but not influence.
"Could I have met with an administrator? Probably," Hecker told me. "Would that person have had the same perspective? You know, I don't know. I think there is an added value of Dan's overall knowledge of the community."
Adds Huckelberry: "He gets respect, and he gets access. He can call up and say, 'I need to see you next week.' And I will say, 'That's fine.' "
Huckelberry said all former supervisors get such access - "even Ed Moore" - but wouldn't equate it to influence.
"Typically the (proposed bond) projects speak for themselves," he said. "Could anybody else have walked in here and secured the allied health professional campus? The answer is 'yes.' "
Maybe that's true, but if there is no influence, why would Pima pay such big bucks for Eckstrom?
Suzanne Miles, Pima College's interim chancellor, told me Eckstrom has been "very helpful" with local issues. No doubt, he is effective. But money also flows like water at Pima with consultants, executive coaches and that two-chancellor thing they tried.
Miles said former Chancellor Roy Flores hired Eckstrom as a consultant to replace two people: an administrator who died in 2005, and the late lobbyist, Art Chapa, who consulted for the college until 2006.
She characterized Eckstrom as a key liaison, monitoring county adult education funding for the college, helping organize a community health fair and addressing neighborhood concerns when Pima College purchased Roberts Elementary School. Plus, he's helped the college navigate Tucson's political landscape.
"There is just a real different way that local politics works in Tucson," she told me. "Do you not think so? I mean, it's really different."
Or maybe it's just the way the world goes 'round?
It's hot here in summer, and Dan Eckstrom is making deals.
Some things never change.
No Rigo's for Brodesky. Contact him at 573-4242 or firstname.lastname@example.org