During her five-plus years as Maricopa County's communications director, Cari Gerchick demonstrated a backbone of titanium, going where most public information officers fear to tread.
Whether it was calling out Sheriff Joe Arpaio on his agency's misspending more than $100 million in voter-protected jail funds, or, literally, standing in the way of an MCSO commander as he sought to seize e-mails crucial to the ACLU's big racial-profiling case Melendres v. Arpaio, Gerchick was a valiant warrior on behalf of the county in an era when the county was in constant conflict with both the MCSO and now-disbarred former county attorney Andrew Thomas.
She's an award-winning flack, always responsive to the needs of journalists and quick to fulfill public records requests, qualities that are rare in other government spokespersons.
Sadly, I learned yesterday that Gerchick no longer reps the county, having resigned from her position earlier this week.
County Manager Tom Manos's office would not comment. His assistant even declined to say whether or not Gerchick was still with the county, an absurd position, considering that Gerchick's county cell number is kaput.
Gerchick was rather philosophical about her departure, when I caught up with her via phone at her home.
"Administrations run their course with their communications people," she told me. "And sometimes administrators are looking for a different fit."
Gerchick declined to comment further.
In her resignation letter to the county, Gerchick thanked both Manos and former county manager David Smith for the opportunity to serve the public.
During my service as Communications Director, I was fortunate to work with extremely talented and dedicated people. I worked on many projects of significant public importance. Whether it was explaining to the public the need for building the South Court Tower, the details of our $2.2 billion budget, or the history regarding the Jail Detention Tax Fund, I appreciated learning about and discussing all of those issues.
I am personally and professionally pleased that the "county war era" has ended. I believe I professionally articulated Maricopa County's perspective in complex matters to the public. In addition, I worked on countless other significant issues impacting the public in the Nation's 4th largest county. Now, it's time to take my skill set as a spokeswoman and attorney to another organization to assist them with their communication challenges.
Prior to her run with the county, Gerchick, who has a law degree from Arizona State University, had been the communications director for the Arizona Supreme Court for four and a-half years.
While there, she actually achieved the near-impossible by securing a correction from right-wing bloviator Rush Limbaugh, who had accused then-Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Ruth McGregor of forbidding the term "illegal alien" on the state's high court.
No such ban had been issued. Nonetheless, the tale went viral, until Gerchick got to work and somehow coaxed a retraction from the rotund radio reactionary.
Her pre-Supremes career consisted of gigs with the Clerk of Superior Court, ASU's College of Law, and former County Attorney Rick Romley.
But it was during the dark days of the war between the Board of Supervisors on one hand and Andy Thomas and Arpaio on the other that she really earned her chevrons.
Thomas and Arpaio bogusly accused the BOS of criminal shenanigans regarding the new county Court Tower, and Arpaio and his then-Chief Deputy David Hendershott were targeting the Supervisors and various county employees and judges with criminal investigations and complaints.
It was a mess that only ended when Thomas resigned as County Attorney in 2010 to run unsuccessfully for Arizona Attorney General.
In the midst of the county conflict, Gerchick was called upon to do things that were above and beyond her pay grade, like in March 2010, when she faced down MCSO commander Bob Rampy over a trove of e-mails that had been subpoenaed in the Melendres lawsuit.
Rampy, then-Arpaio's top IT guy, demanded that the county relinquish those e-mails. Actually, they'd already been shipped out of state, but Rampy showed up at the county IT department all the same to take custody of them.
Gerchick met him in the lobby with a camera crew from Channel 5, and blocked his entrance. After ordering the cameras not to film him, Rampy was forced to retreat.
(Interestingly, Rampy later left the MCSO, and in 2013, was indicted for allegedly trying to hack into MCSO's computers. He pleaded not guilty, and so far, the case has yet to go to trial.)
Gerchick has twice won New Times' "Best PIO" award, and in 2007 won the "Freedom of Information Award" from the Arizona Newspaper Association.
Her departure is a loss for county government, the public at large, and local reporters, who had come to rely on Gerchick for her speed and accuracy.
Here's wishing Gerchick all the best. Wherever she lands next definitely will be the better for it.
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