If You Know Any 16-Pound Bass ...

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Let the fishing begin! This week, the best bass fishermen in the country will be swapping steely-eyed stares all over town — not giving away any of their secrets.

Who can blame them — a couple of ounces, more or less, on a largemouth bass could cost any one of them $50,000. Whew. Pressure. A lot on the line. Tough stuff.

Sure glad the town can’t lose, when it comes to hosting one of a handful of western tournaments in the FLW’s national lineup of tournaments.

Short term, the 300 anglers and their fans will drop an estimated $600,000 in the region this week, a wonderful, late-season boon to still-struggling businesses.

Long term, the international publicity such a tournament provokes will help Roosevelt Lake become a bass fishing hot spot in coming years.

We’re grateful to the core of dedicated volunteers who have spent months working out every possible detail of the tournament. We also appreciate the vision and efforts of town officials, who have worked hard to make the tournament a success — right down to lobbying the Arizona Game and Fish Department to move up its plans to drop the slot limit in time for the tournament.

We believe Payson and other Rim communities must lay claim to Roosevelt Lake — so people connect it to Rim Country just as surely as they do the Tonto Natural Bridge or any other tourist draw.

Fortunately, winter rains filled Roosevelt to record levels. That submerged lots of brush, prompting a boom in both shad and the bass that hunt them.

Now — those steely-eyed professional bass fishermen need to catch some big old fish, so folks watching at home will plan their trip immediately. Game and Fish fisheries manager Kurt Young has predicted that Roosevelt Lake will eventually yield a state bass record — maybe 16 pounds.

But, heck: Maybe he’s already out there. So, if one of you folks knows him — we have a favor to ask.

Just convince that big fella to get himself caught in time for the weigh-in. He can get his picture taken: Be famous. Then they’ll put him right back in the lake. No harm done: He gets his 15 minutes of fame, we get international publicity.

Win. Win. So, if you happen to know any 16-pound bass, just put in a word. Then, for sure: Let the fishing begin!

County seeks escape from a crazy system

Gila County hopes to save $330,000 this year by using a private contractor to lock up mentally ill accused lawbreakers until they’re sane enough to stand trial. Now consider the implications:

First — does it honestly cost that much money to lock up people with mental problems?

Second — does Gila County have so many potentially insane people committing crimes that you can save $300,000 by using a private contractor instead of the state mental hospital in Phoenix?

The problem arises from a legal requirement that before you can put a person on trial, he must both understand the charges against him and be rational enough to participate in his own defense. Unfortunately, the state has a fragmented, mental health system. Many chronically mentally ill people cannot get the services they need to remain stable. So they fall off the edge — walk out of the store with food, scream at invisible voices, take off their clothes or make threats. Someone calls the police.

What to do now? Already, we have more mentally ill people in jail than we have in mental institutions. Well-intentioned laws prevent hospitals from locking up the mentally ill against their will, unless they pose a danger to themselves or others. So they wander away untreated and commit crimes. If they’re judged guilty but insane, they serve their sentences in the state mental hospital.

The state mental hospital charges the county $671 per day to house people who must be “restored to competence” before a trial. The hospital has secure facilities and intensive psychiatric services. But Gila County can’t afford the tab — which ran to $55,000 in just one month for three people undergoing assessment and training now. The chronic legal problem became an acute financial problem for the county in 2009, when the state quit footing the bill on account of its own budget woes.

Now, we certainly hope that Gila County has found a cost effective alternative — that will still meet the legal and humanitarian requirements of the problem.

But you have to admit — it’s scary.

What do you do when the system gets as crazy as the patients?

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