Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

May 25, 2010


Host: Ted Simons

Maricopa County Sheriff Spending


  • County Manager David Smith explains why the Board of Supervisors is looking at ways to limit Sheriff Arpaio’s ability to spend public funds.
Guests:
  • David Smith - Maricopa County Manager


View Transcript
Ted Simons:
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors is taking steps to limit Sheriff Joe Arpaio's ability to spend public money. Here to explain what's going on is Maricopa County Manager David Smith. Good to see you again, thanks for joining us.

David Smith:
Thank you.

Ted Simons:
Why? Why are you taking these steps? What's going on here?

David Smith:
Ted, we take our financial responsibility at the county very seriously. We have a $2.2 billion budget and the sheriff's part of that is $260 million. We expect to get value for the public for every one of those dollars. During the course of some of the lawsuits and some of the inquiries that have gone on, it has come to our attention that it seems like some of the kinds of spending that the sheriff's office is conducting is questionable, maybe wrongful, and maybe spending restricted funds contrary to law. I think we have an obligation to look into that. And I think your viewer public would be interested in knowing these answers.

Ted Simons:
So there is a suggestion, a hint here, that the sheriff has misspent funds.

David Smith:
Exactly.

Ted Simons:
Jail enhancement fund: Talk to us about what that is and why there is such a concern there.

David Smith:
Okay. Jail enhancement funds were enacted by the voters of this county in 1992 for the construction of adult and juvenile facilities. And then that tax was extended in 2002. That's Arizona law 426109. It is a restricted fund. There are those purposes itemized of building and operating adult and juvenile facilities, and then there's some ancillary purposes such as running an ankle bracelet program or a drug rehab, services like that. But everything is related to running jails. So it comes as some surprise to us, as a result of the court case involving getting prisoners to court on time through the transport unit of the sheriff's department, when he testifies in court that he has 80 people that he can call on to deliver prisoners. We go to our payroll and it shows 280 people in the sheriff's department under the transport unit. Where are the other 200 people? We start to recognize many of those names, actually conducting field operations of various kinds, working on either sweeps or working with posse members or other things, these are not allowed expenditures under the restricted jail tax fund.

Ted Simons:
If it's found that money is misspent, the county has to repay it?

David Smith:
We would have to reimburse from general fund dollars to that restricted fund to make it whole. Arguably now we could hear from state auditors, from a variety of authorities say, at the state level, even the attorney general's office on how to fix that. But that creates a liability for the Board of Supervisors to the extent that those dollars were inappropriately spent.

Ted Simons:
What kind of money are we talking about here?

David Smith:
It could be a few million dollars or it could be tens of millions of dollars. It would be nice to actually work cooperatively with the sheriff, if for some reason he inadvertently began to do this, or out of desperation, whatever his excuse is, it would be nice to get in and work those books and figure out how to correct this or at least cut it off so it doesn't get worse.


Ted Simons:
I want to get back to the outside funds in a second. The sheriff says he's willing to go ahead and give you the books but he has to be careful, he has to redact things, there's sensitive information in there, especially with a couple of supervisors and others under investigation. Is that a valid argument?

David Smith:
It is not a problem with respect to any ongoing investigation, any requirement that has to do with11 confidentiality for ongoing operations, we could secure that without any difficulty. That is not an excuse to do an inquiry on basic payroll of what funds someone got paid, their paycheck from.

Ted Simons:
If he thinks sensitive information regarding payroll may have been used for certain investigations, he wants to make sure that's protected?

David Smith:
It's not a difficulty, we could solve in that five seconds.

Ted Simons:
Talk to us about the Ricoh funds.

David Smith:
I know the sheriff has the belief, and maybe other law enforcement, that perhaps they can spend this for virtually anything. Well, there are rules with regard to Ricoh funds, jail enhancement funds. Every one of these has to follow guidelines, whether it's a procurement code or specified purposes. That includes ricoh funds. That can be used for investigating organized crime and those kinds of purposes. But they can't be used, say, for sweeps out in the community, okay? It might be questionable whether they could be used for routine extraditions, which is yet another problem I'd like to talk about, Ted. And those -- all of those accounts also should be known to the county treasurer, and those dollars should be appropriated by the Board of Supervisors before they are spent.

Ted Simons:
If they are not, that gives a suggestion of shadow accounts here. Is that what's going on?

David Smith:
It leads to questions as to how the dollars are being spent, who's making these decisions. All funds of a public nature have to be appropriated by an appropriate elected body. That's the nature of our constitution and that is practice in Arizona and virtually anywhere I ever worked.

Ted Simons:
The county went ahead and froze Ricoh funds starting July first, something along those lines.

David Smith:
That's on a going forward basis. There are still funds in that account that the sheriff can continue to spend, but going forward we have not appropriated any new funds beginning next July 1. And we would like to get into that conversation with the sheriff's representatives with respect to what their business plan is for those funds for the next fiscal year.

Ted Simons:
Credit card concerns, as well?

David Smith:
That's another one where there are what we call P-cards, essentially purchasing cards that a variety of people use. And the original purpose was to allow for those routine everyday purchases like fuel, like routine supplies that you may need to pick up to transact business on a day-to-day basis but I'm understanding some of those cards have perhaps $50,000 credit limits on them. This is inviting problems. We're going to have to look into this and either amend the type of limit on the card as a whole or perhaps limit it to just known commodities and purchases that are clearly for a law enforcement purpose.

Ted Simons:
Amending limits, freezing accounts, these sorts of things. The sheriff says basically the county is playing politics with the safety of his officers and the public. How do you respond?

David Smith:
Let's talk about the extradition program the sheriff has. What's come to our attention is that in many cases the sheriff's officers are going to resort cities. There are people going who are not sworn officers in the department. People are getting tickets who are not even members of the sheriff's department. There are occasions when there is no defendant that goes one way or the other way on one of these trips. Ted, what's going on here, okay? When we ask these questions, does that mean we're somehow preventing law enforcement from going on? No. I think that if the sheriff is actually doing his job as he claims he is, or that he wants to enforce all of the laws, let's enforce the laws with respect to accountability for public funds.

Ted Simons:
The sheriff says this is a vendetta, a retaliation for some disconnect between the county and the sheriff's office. How do you respond? Is this retaliation?

David Smith:
This is not retaliation. Ted, I have an obligation to ask these questions, regardless of the context or regardless of what by-play is going on. I am not here as a political person who runs for office or looks good or whatever. This is my management team that's asking the questions. We're asking the board to have a credible program that does not interfere with law enforcement, but does not give a pass to any official in this government. No one of the 13,500 employees of this county can get a pass from being accountable for the dollars that they spend, for the time they get paid on their paycheck, or for any activity of which the public has an interest. And we will pursue this regardless of the false claim that this is somehow political or a vendetta.

Ted Simons:
All right. Thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

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