There's No Accounting for Joe's Posses

Sheriff thumbs nose at Public Records Law, refuses to disclose how posses collect and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars

Arpaio denies that the posse is politically expedient, and tells New Times that he couldn't use pink-underwear money politically even if he wanted to. Still, his office refuses to turn over records of the funds.

Several weeks ago, after being advised that the Sheriff's Office had no control over the posses, New Times sent out formal, boilerplate requests to the commanders of each of the 49 active posses, asking for access to their general ledgers and citing the Arizona Public Records Law. Only ten of the posses have responded, and they refused to turn over their records on the grounds that the Public Records Law doesn't apply to them.

Posse commanders such as Sun City West's Robert Sysum tell New Times that their organizations operate on donations, not from money sent by the Sheriff's Office. "Our Board," Sysum writes, "felt that money donated by our Citizens should be carefully supervised . . . in fact, we assess our self annual dues to pay for the coffee and donuts at our General Meetings."

Ed Lacki, commander of New River's search-and-rescue posse, says he wouldn't turn over records to New Times even if he had them. Which he doesn't, he admits. "All of our expenditures were done on a cash basis by our members," he writes.

Other posses were apparently even more perturbed that New Times asked to see their records. "If supplying you with any information had ever been an option, the threatening tone of your letter would have voided cooperation. Take your witch hunt and sit on it," writes Jack Anderson, former commander of the Gilbert Southside Mounted Posse.

Sun Lakes Posse commander Bob Raich, meanwhile, threatened to sue New Times if it ever again attempted to see posse records.

Bill FitzGerald, a spokesman for County Attorney Richard Romley, says his office has not been asked for an opinion on the matter, and has no plans to look into it.

The posses, however, may find that their involvement with the Sheriff's Office will require that they be more open.

First Amendment lawyer Dan Barr finds it hard to believe the posses can make a case that they receive no assistance from the Sheriff's Office.

"Even if [the Sheriff's Office] doesn't have control of the money, if a private entity gets any public money at all, then that private entity becomes public under the definition of the Public Records Law," Barr says.

And Barr agrees that if posse funds are collected under the authorization and supervision of public employees, and are distributed by public employees, they qualify as public funds.

The Sheriff's Office disagrees, saying the posses can maintain a private status while dressing up as, and appearing to do the work of, public officials.

"They can't have it both ways," Barr says. "What happens when a posse man flashes his badge and says 'Stop'? Can we walk away? I would have to believe the sheriff would say no.

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