Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

April 8, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Maricopa County Troubles


  • Arizona's most populous county has had it's share of troubles recently, including infighting between the Board of Supervisors, the sheriff and the county attorney. County Manager David Smith talks about the county's troubles.
Guests:
  • David Smith - Maricopa County Manager


View Transcript
Ted Simons:
The Maricopa County board of supervisors and the county's top law enforcement officials haven't exactly been getting along. This week, county attorney Andrew Thomas expressed a desire to start mending fences by transferring a case involving supervisor Don Stapley to Yavapai County. Meanwhile, Sheriff Joe Arpaio was on "Horizon" last night. He said he is not pleased that the supervisors postponed transferring $1.6 million to his department.

Joe Arpaio:
The legislature gave me that money to go after the human smugglers.

Ted Simons:
You were not submitting the request for suggested cuts didn't help matters.

Joe Arpaio:
No, I want them to tell me what they're going to cut and then we'll negotiate.

Ted Simons:
Did it not make sense to just throw the 20% out there --?

Joe Arpaio:
No.

Ted Simons:
-- and then debate it from there?

Joe Arpaio:
No, that would destroy my organization; I would have to close jails and everything else. I want them to come to me and say we are cutting your budget a certain percentage and then we'll talk about it.

Ted Simons:
What happened between you and the board of supervisors? It seemed like you were getting along famously and now it's in the ditch.

Joe Arpaio:
I guess it's because I'm investigating certain people in the county and the board. Isn't that a shame to say we're not going to give you $1.6 million because we're investigating you? That's blackmail to me.

Ted Simons:
Joining me now is Maricopa County manager David Smith. Thank you for joining us. This $1.6 million for human smuggling. Where does this stand?

David Smith:
The board of supervisors voted to take a 30-day look at that particular grant for the purpose of making sure that the priorities with respect to enforcement of human smuggling, of drug sales and running across the border, kidnapping and so on were the priorities and we had accountability. We had reporting back to the board and the state that that's exactly where the money was going.

Ted Simons:
Ok. So the reason the money was postponed, the grant money was postponed was to take a closer look at it by way of your folks who have to funnel the money to the sheriff, correct?

David Smith:
Exactly, to get good accountability measures.

Ted Simons:
And yet lawmakers are saying that money was earmarked for specific purpose and needs to go to serve that purpose. How would you respond?

David Smith:
Exactly right, but we also want accountability for those lawmakers. We want to be able to go back to those lawmakers and say, yes, that's where the money was spent. It was not meant on a reality TV show or other things that give us all concern.

Ted Simons:
But if they're -- it sounds to me, especially Russell Pearce, who was with the sheriff at the press conference, it sounds like they're fine with the sheriff spending that money as he sees fit because the money is supposed to go to human smuggling.

David Smith:
He is one legislator out of 90. We want to please all 90.

Ted Simons:
Ok. Critics will say, though, what's going on here is a political power play between the county and the sheriff's office. I want to get more into the relationship between the county and the sheriff's office and the county and the attorney's office. In this instance, this is a way of saying hold your horses, we're in charge.

David Smith:
The board is always in charge with financial matters, budgetary matters. Except for RICO funds. And it's the board's duty and obligation to ensure the proper fiduciary spending of the money across a variety of programs and a couple of special districts and we take it seriously and they want a good result from every dollar spent. Anybody can say anything they want in a political context, so why the board is doing something. But we're in the middle of a budget process where -- with constrained revenues, everyone, including the sheriff, will be taking a double digit reduction, including my office, including the board members and everyone will join in order to maintain a balanced budget.

Ted Simons:
The sheriff's office says it's arrested at least a thousand people under the state employer sanctions law and lawmakers cite that, and they say he's earned this money. This should be as clear as can be that this money has been earned by the sheriff for doing what it's designed to do.

David Smith:
The numbers really need to be part of a more comprehensive discussion of the delivery of service. He's got a $288 million budget. His position so far to the supervisors has been he can't cult a thin dime out of that $288 million. So that's the kind of dialogue that we're having so far with this particular official.

Ted Simons:
I asked the sheriff last night why he didn't go ahead and throw the 20% suggested cuts out and debate them later on and he said, why bother? 20% is going to decimate this department and we can't afford to have that kind of loss in terms of law enforcement. How do you respond?

David Smith:
That's a mind set. That's somebody who has built up a very substantial budget over a period of years and you weren't creative enough of a manager to think about how to downsize and still deliver your mission. We will be offering specifics to him in his department of where he can cut, save money, and still protect the staffing and the jails and the road patrol, the services that people want and need for public safety will be in his budget and he can give up millions of dollars of unnecessary spending.

Ted Simons:
He also said instead of him suggesting where 20% should be cut you should go to him and tell him where you think things should be cut.

David Smith:
We will. So far he's just said, just give me a number and I'll distribute the cuts. That's not how we do business. Across every department, we talk about the cost of programs and results of programs, what is it that you can do to reorganize and combine and save money with technology, et cetera. That's the productive discussion he has avoided.

Ted Simons:
You're saying if the county says you need to cut X percent, he still has to ok what is cut with the county as opposed to having the jurisdiction and wherewithal to -- you told me to cut this, here's what I'm going to do. I thought it was under his control.

David Smith:
The budgetary process goes into a priority setting under the control of the board of supervisors. After he gets his budget every year and basically signed off, and agreed to his budget in previous years but now we're in a cut mode, he doesn't want to agree. But he does have lump sum authority to move that money around into different programs.

Ted Simons:
Last question on the sheriff's office appearance, he repeated he does not like being micromanaged. That's a valid concern, isn't it?

David Smith:
To the extent that we have a statutory obligation of the board of supervisors to set fiscal policy, they have the requirement to talk specifics. Not just to talk vague generalities about spending that -- does not make any sense. So if that is what he considers micromanaging, then I guess he's never liked the budget process that's existed since I've been county manager for 14 years. It's no different this year and now all of a sudden, it's micromanaging. It's no different.

Ted Simons:
Let's talk about the county attorney sending up cases up to Yavapai. Your thoughts on the Stapley case and the courthouse case.

David Smith:
I have a copy of the judge Donahue decision from the grand jury decision looking into the courthouse which was not a budgetary favorite of either the county attorney or the sheriff under the misguided notion if they didn't build the building --

Ted Simons:
Why is that misguided?

David Smith:
Because the money is in a secure capital account which means it can only be used for capital. It could be moved to other capital projects but cannot be made available for operating dollars. If it were, the state could come and take it. That's been part of the board's priority setting on the capital side of the budget, to treat it as it was a bond issue.

Ted Simons:
There's no way to float that money through to get us through the tough economic times?

David Smith:
What I'm saying is that it's being obligated to various contracts, to various relationships with banks for short-term borrowing so that you would have to violate those covenants to try and invade and get the money. Does that mean you couldn't get dollar one? Well, that's for a lot of the experts to figure out. But generally, the money is sequestered into a capital improvement account.

Ted Simons:
Going back to the case with Yavapai County.

David Smith:
The courthouse case was given the official decision on February 6, and now we're in early April. Where basically judge Donahue of the superior court says the county attorney secure the appointment of a special prosecutor if wishes to turn the prosecution of this case. He's known for five weeks he couldn't move and now he's a statesman to sending it to Yavapai County.

Ted Simons:
When he says this is not necessarily a victory for the board of supervisors, you could say --

David Smith:
It is incorrect. The judge ordered him to do this.

Ted Simons:
His actions, though, do they help at all to break this impasse? To mend fences way out on the back 40 somewhere?

David Smith:
Let me tell me you what's really the bottom line on this issue. I've got a list of 63 conflicts that the county attorney has had, which includes suing the board of supervisors three times and 63 times acting not in the interest of the board of supervisors as the board's lawyer. Now, Ted, if your lawyer had sued you three times and discovered -- you were discovered he had not acted in your own interest 63 times, would you want to continue to do business with him?

Ted Simons:
I understand where you're coming from but also hear what the county attorney says and he says that the law is clear that he prosecuted in Maricopa County and acts as the county's legal advisor. Does a law or two needs to be changed?

David Smith:
Well, where we need to start is simply the Arizona code of ethics for attorneys. What's really been going on here is a compromise over the care -- the county attorney's obligation to serve his client ethically, which means that you first of all, do not act not in the interests of that client unless the conflict of interest is cleared and that the client is told that there is a conflict of interest and we've discovered in many cases the board was never informed and never signed off on these conflict of interests so what he's tried to do in this courthouse matter is to investigate a -- investigate it criminally, after his counsel was on the project and signed off on every contract and agenda item for a period of a couple of years, and again, that's what the judge says, on the one hand, he's getting legal advice and then prosecuting on the same matter.

Ted Simons:
When the county attorney again says what you're talking about here in a variety of ways is how he sees it as quasi immunity for public officials.

David Smith:
That's a bizarre interpretation, ok? Any attorney knows that they're subject to the Arizona code of ethics that sanctioned by the Arizona Supreme Court and you cannot waive it or have a status that gets beyond it. I know that they actually said that before the judge that it doesn't apply to them because they're public lawyers. The judge corrected him very sternly when he said that. Think about this, Ted. Do you want to invest prosecutors with all of the power to convict and put people in jail who are not guided by any code of ethics?

Ted Simons:
I think what the county attorney's office would in turn say is would you want us not to fully investigate and prosecute public officials when we hear that -- and you know, who knows what evidence they have.

David Smith:
Right.

Ted Simons:
But obviously, something has sent them on their way to a couple of different avenues. Obviously, if not many more. Let's talk about courthouse and Stapley. They think they've got something.

David Smith:
Uh-huh.

Ted Simons:
Maybe they do, maybe they don't. What do they do?

David Smith:
What you do is ethically, you proceed and the way you do it is to make your choice. Either provide civil advice on the project and you ask another competent prosecutor, the state attorney general -- there's 16 other opportunities to ask someone to actually take over the prosecution, if that's your choice but reverse your roles, but you can't do both.

Ted Simons:
Is that a chilling effect on the concept of advising your clients?

David Smith:
He gets to choose what he wants to do. If he didn't want to participate, he doesn't have to participate in anything that he thinks the board is shady, they can't be trusted. Whatever. I mean, the statute says you can give advice or he can decline and ask someone else to do it.

Ted Simons:
Once he gives advice, he needs to realize it. If he finds funny business on something he's given advice to, hands off.

David Smith:
Not hands off, give it to other hands.

Ted Simons:
And then hands off. I tried to mention this with the sheriff. How much damage is being done? There are a lot of feuds. Between the sheriff and the county attorney's office and there's a lot of people not talking to each other. And a lot of subpoenas and investigations. How much damage, what are we going through here?

David Smith:
It's tragic in the sense that you and all of the other taxpayers of this community are paying for this. You're paying for both sides of legal representation as the conflicts play out. So even if the board wins, so-called, which I expect them to, whether it's the removal of the Stapley case, whether it's the quashing of the courthouse investigation, and we also have the issue of setting up our own litigation department and suing on that, none of this is helpful and the sad thing is the county attorney had the choice of avoiding this mess. He's the one that sued the board directly or indirectly four times. The board has never sued the county attorney. And so yeah, it would be nice to put an end to this and we're happy for creative solutions but you really opened up a trust issue with respect to these individuals. And I -- I'm not sure how that is -- am overcome.

Ted Simons:
I was going to say -- we've got 15 seconds left. Can it be overcome?

David Smith:
We will work with anyone who will work honestly, sincerely with us. That's always been our position. I came in when there was a financial crisis in 1994. We healed that and got on the same page for many years and now because we have this budget crisis, all of a sudden, things are falling apart. It's just not the way taxpayers and recipients of service should get their help from the county.

Ted Simons:
All right. We'll stop it there. Thanks for joining us on "Horizon." Coming up on "Horizon"

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