Governor Doug Ducey announced his choice this week for a new state Department of Economic Security director, hoping to move past one of the biggest debacles his administration has experienced.
Michael Trailor, current director of the Arizona Department of Housing, will fill the position left by former DES Director Tim Jeffries, who Ducey fired in November following a series of articles on Jeffries in the Arizona Republic.
Jeffries, a former businessman like Ducey, began making headlines soon after Ducey appointed him in early 2015 for a callous employee-termination program in which nearly 500 were fired. He also drew criticism for pushing his religious and political views on the agency's roughly 7,500 employees, in addition to bolstering DES' internal police force.
The governor's chief of operations, Henry Darwin, has filled in as interim DES director since November.
"I’m honored to have been given this opportunity by Governor Ducey,” Trailor said in a written statement. "The services and programs offered by the Department of Economic Security are vital to thousands of Arizonans, and I take this responsibility seriously. I look forward to working with the DES team as well as clients and stakeholders, and getting started.”
Trailor, who hasn't yet moved over to his DES office, did not return messages for this article.
He clearly has a big job ahead of him. The Housing Department has only about 75 employees, but DES has about 7,500.
Besides the sheer scale of the DES, which primarily helps dole out federal funding for various social-services programs, Trailor has to smooth out morale and rebuild trust among those employees. Many DES workers liked the former director, believing his leadership better than the agency had experienced previously, while others expressed fear and discomfort during Jeffries' 22-month reign.
Trailor gets praise for the way he has run the Housing Department since former Governor Jan Brewer appointed him to that post in 2009. He's a strong advocate for the homeless, and has been involved with various shelter and housing projects.
Last year, for instance, he received an award from the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness for what the coalition called an "unprecedented commitment" to veterans.
"As a result of his leadership, over 400 housing units have been created across the state targeting chronic and vulnerable veterans," says a statement from the Housing Department about the award.
Bruce Liggett, director of the Maricopa County Human Services Department, said that Trailor's leadership in a local partnership for homeless issues called Funding Collaborative in the past few years has been invaluable.
"I've gotten to know Mike, and we're just really excited about Mike's appointment to DES," Ligett said. "He knows how to motivate staff and how to perform. He knows how to select extremely capable staff to get the job done."
Trailor served as a principal with Vanguard Cityhome of Scottsdale, developing "multiple residential and retail projects," according to an online bio about Trailor on the National Council of State Housing Agencies website, listing other development-related positions.
"In his six years as Director of the Arizona Department of Housing," the bio states, "Michael has increased staff capacity and improved policies and procedures to replicate best practices. He has targeted department resources to assist the most vulnerable populations in the state with housing and community revitalization."
Trailor's involvement in Vanguard Cityhome had some dark clouds, too, though. As the Phoenix Business Journal reported in 2010, the company defaulted on a $97 million loan to develop Safari Drive, a project of homes and business space near Camelback and Scottsdale roads.
The article quoted two other Scottsdale developers, Mike Letzt and Skip Jackson, who said Trailor's appointment to Housing was "inappropriate given the outcome of Safari Drive and another failed project in Glendale."
Letzt couldn't be reached; Jackson declined comment for this article.
The Journal article also referenced a former Brewer aide praising Trailor as "a well-regarded businessman whose company failed like many others in the past two years."
Andy Hall, a former DES employee, had experiences with both Jeffries and Trailor. Jeffries personally ordered Hall to be fired after he sent an email that mildly questioned the agency's focus on politics. Hall worked occasionally with the state Housing Department in his DES job and attended meetings with Trailor.
"Early on, he wanted to make sure everybody knew he was a born-again, but that seemed to taper off after a while and I never heard any talk of him proselytizing at ADOH," Hall said, implying that Trailor was unlikely to integrate religion into his leadership style like Jeffries did.
"I know he didn't see eye-to-eye with Jeffries on issues around managing homelessness programs, so that's to his credit," Hall continued. "There was a sort of tug-of-war last year over whether ADOH or my division at DES should administer certain federal monies, but I wasn't directly involved in that dispute and was happy Trailor held his ground."
A current DES employee who asked to remain anonymous said, ironically, that one rumor at the agency is that Trailor will be a "job cutter" who will lay off more workers.
"Let's hope not. He is a yes man," the employee said. "It just doesn't seem that good to me, that's all."
The employee said morale was low at the agency, at least in some circles, and praised a recent New Times article about an infestation of rats in one DES office.
"This place is still bad to work for," the employee said. "About six to eight more caseworkers have also scattered like rats outta here recently."
The Arizona Department of Public Safety continues to investigate how Jeffries and his aides handled the operations of the DES' own police force, the Office of Inspector General.
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As the Arizona Republic's Craig Harris reported after Jeffries stepped down, state troopers seized about 50 handguns and 80,000 rounds of ammunition in the basement of the DES headquarters at 1789 West Jefferson Street in Phoenix.
Jeffries claims he was saving money by outfitting a new force of DES security officers — complete with yellow smiley faces on their uniforms — who would replace those working under contract for the state.
Carol Ditmore will serve as Interim Housing Director, Ducey's office said.