Maricopa County Craziness

Arpaio-Thomas Feud With County Officials Had Nothing to do With Sweep for Bugs, County Manager Says

Last year's sweep of Maricopa County offices for hidden bugs had nothing to do with the feud between county officials and the tag-team of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and then-County Attorney Andy Thomas, says County Manager David Smith.

Instead, the two sweeps costing taxpayers $14,600 were conducted out of concern about "leaks" of information to the media, Smith says. Board members were worried that someone had given out details of supervisors' executive sessions last December -- yet none of these concerns was linked to the long-running feud with the county's two antagonists, he adds.

If you're like us, you're wondering why the heck Smith seems to be lying about this.

Sure, we understand that the thinly evidenced investigation into Maricopa County Supervisor Andy Kunasek appears yet another political tactic by Chief Deputy Dave Hendershott on behalf of his boss, Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

We knew the Kunasek investigation had problems before we could tell you, with certainty, what it was about.

Now that the Arizona Republic has confirmed rumors that Arpaio's office was investigating Kunasek over last year's sweep for bugs in county offices, Hendershott's tactic looks no less unprofessional.

For instance, the Sheriff's Office called Kunasek's alleged actions a "theft of public money." Even if Kunasek authorized the sweep for bugs, this would be a misuse of public funds -- theft is going too far. If failing to properly spend county money is "theft," what about the bus the Sheriff's Office allegedly bought without going through normal procurement channels? Wasn't that a "theft," too?

You'd think Kunasek and David Smith would be coming out forcefully, on the heels of Hendershott's accusation, to say something like, "Hell, yeah, we swept for bugs. After all Arpaio and Thomas have put us through, after all their bad conduct, of course we figured they'd plant illegal wiretaps in our offices."

But Smith said nothing like that. The county's not making this easy.

Smith says he recalls talking to supervisors about the possibility of bugs and the need to sweep for them. But he's "hazy" in his recollection of which board member okay'd the sweep Smith later had performed.

Today's Republic story states that "county officials said neither Kunasek nor any other board member was asked to authorize the payment."

However, that's not what we heard when this matter was still fresh.

On March 16, 2009, county spokesman Richard de Uriarte told us that one of the supervisors had ordered the sweep, but he couldn't say who.

Apparently, says the Republic, Hendershott's single piece of evidence linking Kunasek to the decision is a TV news report quoting one board member saying Kunasek "signed off" on the sweep. (The Republic doesn't state which board member that would have been).

The more questions we asked today, the deeper the quagmire. If the concern about leaks that led to the bug-sweep had nothing to do with the county feud, what was it about?

Can't tell you, says Smith -- it's an executive-session matter.

Smith claims these leaks led to media reports but that he can't reveal which reports or articles resulted from the leaks, even though the leaked information is public now.

Did these leaks stop after the sweeps occurred? Smith can't remember. People still had concerns over the leaks, but whether any leaks happened just after the sweeps, he can't say.

"I think they have [stopped] for now," he adds.

Before last year, the last time the county swept for bugs was 1998. No sweeps have been ordered since the two last year.

To think this had nothing to do with the Arpaio-Thomas feud simply defies belief.

The first time anyone -- even the Sheriff's Office, supposedly -- learned about the bug-sweep was in a March 2009 article in the Arizona Republic.

The article was all about the feud.

Perhaps denying that the sweeps had something to do with the actions of Arpaio and Thomas has something to do with the county's tactics of legal defense.

And we could almost appreciate that.

Yet for close observers of what we call County Craziness, Smith's denial sure doesn't make this story any simpler.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.