A program that allowed fired Arizona Department of Economic Security employees to appeal to get their jobs back has ended, with officials having deemed that DES handled most of the terminations correctly.
Last month, Governor Doug Ducey fired Tim Jeffries, the businessman he appointed nearly two years ago to lead DES, after increasingly troubling news stories about Jeffries' leadership of the agency, including the mass firings first reported last year by New Times.
Nearly 500 people were terminated from the agency under Jeffries' short reign, out of a total of about 7,700 employees. From the beginning, numerous fired workers complained that they'd been treated callously and hadn't deserved to lose their jobs.
Jeffries claimed he was ridding the agency of the "cancer" of problem employees, who he said included "bullies," "liars," and "slackers." Some lauded his attempt to clean house, and he still has supporters. Others felt the termination program went too far. The agency replaced many of the fired people with new employees.
Although Ducey's office appeared to condone the terminations until they became fodder for a media feeding frenzy, the governor directed the ADOA to set up hotline in October for aggrieved terminated employees and a procedure via which they could try to get rehired.
On Friday, the ADOA declared that the program had run its course.
Out of 267 fired employees who requested a review of their cases, the ADOA concluded that 40 had been fired "in a manner that did not follow the best practices" of the ADOA's human-resources department. Although employees fired from any state agency could have applied through the program, all 40 whose termination was deemed improper had been with DES.
"These individuals will be contacted over the next week, before the end of the year, with an offer of re-hire at DES into their previous position, if available," according an email sent to the news media by Megan Rose, spokeswoman for the ADOA. "If that position is filled or no longer exists, we will work to place them in a comparable position for which they are qualified. At a minimum, they will receive their previous salary."
The termination decision will stand for the remaining 227 employees, Rose said.
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In a statement he sent this week to New Times and the Arizona Capitol Times, Jeffries defended his actions as DES director. He writes that he had a large number of terminations at his agency because that's exactly what Ducey wanted.
Below is a portion of Jeffries' defense letter, with annotated comments in bold. The facts Jeffries states have not been independently verified by New Times. Two sections of Jeffries' email have been omitted here — one about his use of the state airplane, the other about treating Nogales DES office employees to drinks including beer. Those sections are based primarily on reporting by the Cap Times' Ben Giles and other reporters.
Read Jeffries' email:
Employee Terminations and Merit Payments:
1) At DES, we reduced the size of the workforce by 2% (approx. 7,700 to 7,500) in line with the Governor Ducey's initiative to reduce the overall size of government.
2) At DES, 475 employees (approx. 6%) were exited in line with Governor Ducey's third expectation in his "8 Leadership Traits" memo to "weed out" the worst 10%.
[NOTE: See the Leadership Traits memo, which Jeffries attached, below. Ducey's office did not immediately return a call about the memo.]
3) The overall demographics of the 475 DES employees that were exited were in line with the overall demographic percentages of DES.
4) Per 2012 Personnel Reform, no reason is required for the release of an AT WILL employee yet legitimate reasons were still necessary for terminations.
5) Every former AT WILL employee who was exited had the individual option to file legal action as the individual deemed appropriate.
6) Only one former AT WILL employee filed a legal claim, and she eventually withdrew her suit.
7) When I commenced my directorship approx. 1,800 employees were COVERED; when I concluded my work approx. 350 employees were covered employees.
8) My recollection is that during my directorship approx. 25 covered folks retired, and approx. 25 covered folks were exited.
9) Every COVERED employee who was exited had the individual option to file a grievance with the State Personnel Board.
10) Only two former COVERED employees filed a termination grievance with the State Personnel Board, and the two DES actions were sustained.
11) Overall, approx. former 1,400 covered folks continue to work at DES, and are eligible for annual merit payments (which is awesome for them and their families).
12) As it pertains to DES Merit Payments, receipt of a merit payment during any given year is not a guarantee of future employment.
13) DES Merit Payments were distributed based on merit review scores for the 12 months past, and were not necessarily related to future performance and actions.
14) For example, I recall that one of the former employees arrested for SNAP fraud had received one or two merit payments, but the employee was still rightfully arrested and terminated.
15) There is not a clawback provision for merit payments (and, BTW, I do not believe there should be this type of provision).
"Do Not Hire List" and Ability to Terminate
16) I did not create and maintain a "Do Not Hire List" or an "Enemies List."
17) I did not direct nor authorize DES HR to create and maintain a "Do Not Hire List" or an "Enemies List."
18) ADOA created and maintained a "No Hire List" though it is called something to the effect of "Disqualified for Rehire."
19) The HR terminology of "regrettable and non-regrettable" exits was created at ADEQ several years ago.
20) This terminology was created by at ADEQ by Henry Darwin (now COO, and interim DES Director) and Elizabeth Thorsen (now State HR chief).
21) The decision to track "regrettable and non-regrettable" exits at every agency came from the Governor's Office as a part of standardization of select metrics on agency scorecards.
22) Henry Darwin, Elizabeth Thorsen and I decided to change the DES HR Chief the week before the Governor's office issued the statement that I could no longer terminate any employee.
23) Every HR leader (Chief Human Resources Officer) at every state agency is an ADOA employee which means every termination had to always be signed off by ADOA.
[NOTE: New Times asked Megan Rose of the ADOA about this, particularly whether ADOA or DES created a "do-not-hire" list. Here's what she replied:
"It is important to note that under the authority of ARS 41-746, there is a policy called Disqualification for Consideration of Employment which is a list that former state employees can be placed on due to egregious or fraudulent behavior. There is an entire process to being placed on that list, including notification to the employee. From what I understand, there are only a handful of employees on that list.
"Other than the Disqualification from Consideration of Employment, there is no list that ADOA uses to prevent involuntarily separated employees from seeking another job within state government.
"Here is the link to the policy:
NOTE: Back to Jeffries' email...]
Mr. Andy Hall
[NOTE: As the Arizona Capitol Times reported in October, Hall was terminated after he complained that an email sent to DES staff by Jeffries' press secretary, Tasya Peterson, smacked of "politics." In an email to Hall's boss, Jeffries labeled Hall an "idiot" and said he wanted him fired immediately.]
24) As it pertains to Mr. Andy Hall, he was an AT WILL employee, therefore any merit payments were not a guarantee of future employment.
25) Mr. Hall's periodic rants on the internet should provide you some potential clues regarding a go-to approach regarding any number of things.
26) Ms. Tasya Peterson, my former press secretary, was a first-class female professional worthy of the utmost respect, anything less was not tolerated per the agency values.
27) Mr. Hall retained legal counsel, but never filed a legal claim nor an EEO claim against DES
28) If ADOA elects to reinstate Mr. Hall that's great for him, but no so great for others.
[NOTE: New Times asked Andy Hall about Jeffries' statement about him. Here's his reply:
"I don't really regard Mr. Jeffries' statements as worthy of any response, though I certainly disagree with his assessment of Ms. Peterson. As I've said, Ms. Peterson's behavior in instigating my "same day exit" was vindictive and malicious and I believe she deserves to be relieved of her position. I have written a letter to interim director (Henry) Darwin to make sure he knows I have filed a complaint with (Arizona Attorney General Mark) Brnovich charging Peterson with violating state employee standards of conduct for her part in my firing."]