Joe Arpaio's Balloon Payments

It hasn't been cheap keeping the Joe Show aloft. Now, his employees, his inmates and the citizens of Maricopa County are paying the price.

Last year, supposedly to save on air conditioning costs, Arpaio gave inmates 1,000 "Joe fans" so they could fan themselves to keep cool. Detention officers warned the command staff that the fan's handles would make ideal shanks. The program went ahead anyway, and, as detention officers predicted, they were made into knifelike shanks. Detention officers then had to raid the jails to confiscate the fans and shanks. Then more staff time and money went into detention officers' written reports of each incident.

And detention officers say they are still finding some of the fan shanks.

"Here's a perfect example of resources being pulled away from critical services to fix one of Arpaio's blunders," says Chris Gerberry, president of Maricopa County Deputies Association. "And stuff like this happens all the time."

Joe Arpaio, America's Toughest Sheriff.
Doug Hoeschler
Joe Arpaio, America's Toughest Sheriff.

Waste and disingenuous financial claims infect nearly all of the sheriff's programs that go beyond the department's official duties. For instance, the sheriff runs educational programs that clearly would be more cost effective if run by the county's education agencies.

As programs bloated, salaries for command staffers ballooned.

In 1999, the sheriff moved $1 million from funds designated for inmate and aviation expenses to pay for salaries.

In 1998, the sheriff asked the county for extra money to give his employees a 5 percent raise.

Civilian employees have received only 1.25 percent to 2.5 percent raises in recent years.

At the same time, from 1996 to 1999, chief deputy David Hendershott's salary doubled from about $60,000 to $120,000. And salaries increased dramatically for favored deputy chiefs.

In October 1999, Hendershott retired as a peace officer and was hired back the next day as a civilian employee. His salary remained at $120,000, plus he also began collecting $51,000 a year in peace-officer retirement benefits, benefits that had doubled in the three years previous because of his accelerated pay raises.

County supervisors then cut his salary by $51,000. Hendershott sued, and the case wasn't settled until late last month. Under the settlement, Hendershott will get his $120,000 salary, plus $93,000 in back pay, as well as his retirement money, as long as he helps balance the office's budget and bring it into line with the new county accounting practices.

As Hendershott and his top assistants received massive pay raises, Christenson was out leasing a record number of motorcycles and vehicles. Some of the purchases made by the Sheriff's Office were not competitively bid, as required by state law. Last year, Christenson repaid the county $30,000 of his own money for Sheriff's Office motorcycles when it was revealed he hadn't received competitive bids on the Harley-Davidsons.

The bill also has continued to rise for the sheriff's move two years ago into the Wells Fargo building downtown. According to a New Times analysis, when all the costs of rent, architectural designing, computer systems, security systems, furniture and new personnel are considered, the move has so far cost taxpayers a minimum of $3 million.

The Wells Fargo move, for example, was necessary because of severe problems with the administration's old facility. Allen says the renovations were minimal, especially compared to those made in the Maricopa County Attorney's offices in the same building.

"Now those are swanky," she says.

Regardless, by the end of June -- the end of the last fiscal year -- the Sheriff's Office was at least $2.7 million over budget.

So Arpaio made a deal with Qwest, which contracts with the jails to provide collect calls by inmates. Qwest agreed to make an early payment on this year's contract, so Arpaio got $2.7 million on his books before June 30. His accounting disaster was put on hold until the next year.

By early last fall, the game was clearly over. The sheriff's budget was coming under increased scrutiny by county officials. The fight over Hendershott's double dipping continued. Christenson's Harley-Davidson lease deal was a favorite running joke for the county's accountants.

New Times reported in late summer that the sheriff appeared to be about $8 million over budget, a report the sheriff's public relations officers vehemently denied.

County officials called for an independent audit. The accountants were stonewalled by sheriff's officials, but the audit proceeded.

In November, Arpaio won reelection in a landslide. After the election, Arpaio and his command staff began reassigning employees and purging posse members known to have been sympathetic to Arpaio's rivals.

Auditors turned their report over to county supervisors, saying the Sheriff's Office was uncooperative. County officials got angrier and threatened to take over control of Arpaio's budget.

But around Christmas, once the election was safely over, Arpaio's mood changed. He finally admitted he was in budget trouble and agreed something had to be done.

He blamed it primarily on overtime costs due to staffing shortages.

Christenson was removed as financial officer. Arpaio asked county officials for suggestions for a new financial officer, and eventually hired Loretta Barkell, a respected county accountant intimate with the county's new budgeting initiative, Managing for Results.

Christenson took over policy and inmate-canteen operations at a salary of $83,000 a year.

Hendershott, with a settlement deal on his salary dispute in the works, began speaking cordially with county officials.

In late February, the first wave of substantial new cuts was announced within the Sheriff's Office. Hendershott began his memo: "In order to meet critical service requirements for detention and patrol functions, the Sheriff's Office exceeded appropriation levels during the first seven months of the year."

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