Last June, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery silenced Democratic County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox with threats of possible felony charges over her potential conflicts of interest.
He's yet to issue any warning to Republican Supervisor Denny Barney, who has potential conflicts on a different matter.
The elected prosecutor, a Republican, told Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox that she might be charged with a crime if she discussed a racial-profiling lawsuit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office in executive sessions with the other four members of the Board of Supervisors. Wilcox since has abstained from such discussions or votes on the lawsuit out of fear of Montgomery's threats, even though her lawyer says there is no conflict.
Meanwhile, Montgomery hasn't said a word about felonies to Supervisor Denny Barney, a fellow Republican lawyer, even though Barney has conflicts of interest.
The Arizona Republic's Michelle Ye Hee Lee detailed Barney's apparent conflicts in a story published on Friday.
Barney's a new supervisor who took office in January 2013 to represent parts of the East Valley and currently is the board's chairman. He's also the principal of a company trying to develop Luke Ranch Estates, a 38-lot residential project near Litchfield Road and Glendale Avenue. On at least three occasions, Ye Hee Lee reported, Barney sought direct help from Deputy County Manager Joy Rich, who oversees county planning issues, for county-related delays for his company's project.
For instance, he once asked her to stay after a meeting to "to get the issues with Luke Ranch resolved." And he gave her a printout of an e-mail from his business partners who had urged him to "get someone of Joy's caliber or higher to bring the hammer down, so to speak, on staff."
At this point, it seems doubtful that Rich and staffers of the county's planning department would treat Barney and his company like any other business. He arguably shouldn't vote on county planning matters that might affect his project until his project issues are resolved. Perhaps he should abstain from voting on or discussing in executive sessions any planning matter for a while, now that county staffers are well aware his bank account might be impacted by their decisions.
According to state law: "Any public officer or employee who has, or whose relative has, a substantial interest in any decision of a public agency shall make known such interest in the official records of such public agency and shall refrain from participating in any manner as an officer or employee in such decision."
Wilcox's potential conflict of interest is less direct than Barney's.
Montgomery claims in his June 6 opinion letter to Wilcox that because he's appealing her $975,000 settlement with the county, she cannot take part in discussion or vote on issues related to the Melendres racial-profiling case.
His reasoning goes like this: Wilcox made public statements over the years about discrimination against Hispanics by Arpaio's office. When the Melendres lawsuit was filed by legal activists and ultimately won in federal court, Wilcox spoke out in favor of it. Some of the same issues are at stake in both cases, like Arpaio's abuse of power and violating the civil rights of people. If she wins the appeal in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court, the settlement would be vacated and her case would go back to trial court. If that happened, she would have a "potential pecuniary interest in the final outcome" of Melendres.
Montgomery's office has struggled to explain just how Wilcox would benefit from Melendres, and a judge weighing in on the issue said he didn't get it, either.
In July, Wilcox and her lawyer, retired Superior Court Presiding Judge Colin Campbell, asked a court to decide whether Wilcox really did have a conflict as Montgomery claimed.
"I don't see how the Melendres case can really help her, except in the court of public opinion," Judge Dean Fink said during a hearing on the matter.
Yet Fink declined to state whether or not Wilcox had a real conflict: "Like the County Attorney's opinion, the Court's opinion would not be binding on any prosecutor," Fink said back then. "It would be little more than a public relations tool to apply political pressure. Those are not waters into which the Court is inclined to wade."
It's unclear whether Fink meant that Montgomery's opinion was also a political tool.
Montgomery didn't respond to a request to explain why he's warning Wilcox but not Barney.
Barney didn't return a phone message.
Since January 1, 2013, until Wednesday, three Supervisors had filed declarations of conflicts of interest, and Barney wasn't one of them.
Steve Chucri, another new Supervisor, filed three declarations with the county in 2013 citing conflicts of interest in matters before the county due to his role as the CEO of the Arizona Restaurant Association. In November, he declared a conflict in the county's discussion with General Motors, having been an advocate for GM's Desert Proving Ground in Yuma.
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Clint Hickman, who was appointed to replace retiring Supervisor Max Wilson last year, is the vice president of marketing and sales at his family's farm, Hickman's Eggs. he filed a conflict notice in July on a planning-and-zoning item related to "the keeping of up to five chicken hens on parcels in residential zoning districts."
Perhaps general declarations could be made for potential conflicts like Barney's and actual conflicts like Chucri's. Logically, the CEO of the Arizona Restaurant Association should never participate in whole categories of county-related matters that affect restaurants. Chucri didn't get an advisement letter about felonies from Montgomery, either. (Wilcox, theoretically, has potential conflicts on restaurant matters, like making changes to health codes, because she owns a restaurant.)
So far, it's just the Democrat receiving warnings from Montgomery over potential violations of the state's conflict-of-interest law.