It's been quite a year of ups and downs for Don Stapley, one of five members of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.
He started 2009 under the burden of 118 criminal counts. In September, the charges were dismissed because of a technicality that is now being appealed. Three days after the charges were dropped, Sheriff Joe Arpaio's deputies arrested Stapley (below) in a county parking garage and accused him of new crimes, but have been stymied from bringing formal charges against him.
Now he's preparing to take the role of Supervisors board chairman.
The chairman's position rotates among the majority party members, meaning the Board's four Republicans, and its Stapley's turn. Max Wilson is the current chairman, but Stapley will take over during the first meeting of January. The role includes setting the Board's agenda, coordinating meetings, and acting as one of the county's main spokespeople.
"There's nothing in my eyes that would prevent him from doing this," says Mary Rose Wilcox, the board's only Democrat -- and a subject of a criminal investigation herself by Arpaio and County Attorney Andrew Thomas. (Who isn't these days?) "Everything they've thrown at Don has proven to be not valid. Perhaps one day those things will go to trial, but Don has not been convicted. I find him to be a good colleague."
The attempted prosecution of Stapley widened the rift massively this year between county leaders on one side and Arpaio and Thomas on the other. New Times covered the case in a feature story published last week, "Serving Up Stapley," concluding that while Stapley's business practices do look sketchy, the apparently unethical behavior of Thomas and Arpaio should be an even bigger concern to the public.
This week, Thomas and Arpaio filed a federal racketeering lawsuit against the Board of Supervisors, key Superior Court judges, and a private law firm in what seems like a Hail Mary play to resolve the feud. The lawmen claim top county officials conspired to fund a new $347 million court tower and protect Stapley from prosecution. Arpaio's chief deputy, Dave Hendershott, also filed judicial complaints against four working and retired judges.
Appointing Stapley as chairman can't make the county's relationship with Thomas and Arpaio any worse, says Wilcox.
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"There's already no dialogue, no discussion, no communication," she says.
But, of course, it could get worse. Arpaio and Thomas currently have the badges, guns, and handcuffs.