It sure is sizzling over at the state liquor department. In addition to the usual stuff of keeping an eye on taverns, investigators have had to contend with the allegations of crack sales at Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley's famous Club 902. And there's a whole army of irate football fans who can't understand why skybox bigwigs get to drink during NFL games and they can't.

Frankly, however, it's weenies that have kept the department's Sherlock Holmeses occupied.

Indeed, according to state and county records, some investigators at the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control are calling each other "weenie," hiding weenies in paper bags, drawing weenies on organizational charts and doodling dirty little obscene weenies on memos.

A weenie-obsessed office can get to you. It got to liquor-department investigator Norman Perkins, who claims he was targeted as a weenie after the liquor department discovered he'd failed to report on his "Personal History" that he'd been arrested three times in the Valley in the Sixties.

Last November, Perkins filed suit in Maricopa County Superior Court against his supervisor Tom Jonovich, a co-worker named Garry Shumann and the state for calling him a "missing weenie." Really. Perkins, Shumann, Jonovich and their lawyers wouldn't comment on the case, which is still dragging along. So it's not known if the phrase "missing weenie" refers to a grave medical problem.

And it's equally unclear from court papers whether the weenie bickering stems from a silly little squabble between Perkins and Shumann and Jonovich or whether Perkins really was persecuted on the job.

Perkins, of course, believes he was persecuted. He says in court papers that he dropped forty pounds and sought counseling after Jonovich handed him a sausage in a paper bag and hooted, "You're a missing weenie!" during a staff meeting. And then Perkins saw doodles of bratwurst on liquor-department organizational charts.

And, worse yet, obscene drawings of sausages appeared on memos from Jonovich, court papers say.

Perkins says Jonovich and Shumann embarrassed him in front of his fellow investigators by putting him in a "false light" when they called him a "missing weenie." In a letter to the state written a few months before the lawsuit was filed, Perkins said Jonovich was trying to humiliate him after the department discovered that Perkins had failed to tell the liquor department about his prior arrests.

Perkins was demoted from sergeant to investigator after the revelations, but he maintained that the demotion was unfair because the arrests were, well, trivial. He said he'd never been convicted of any crimes.

He freely admitted that he'd been arrested three times in the Valley in the late Sixties, but said he didn't "intentionally conceal" those incidents. He simply failed to mention the arrests for "aiding and abetting a person DUI," "vagrancy" and "simple assault." Perkins also admitted that around the same time he'd been picked up because he was mistaken for a "possible Navy AWOL" and had been turned over to the Shore Patrol for whizzing along the beach on a motorcycle. Perkins, a former cop in Chandler, Mesa, Apache Junction, and Logan, Utah, said he'd always received good job reviews from the liquor department since he joined in 1983. He noted that if he'd wanted to hide anything, he certainly wouldn't have signed papers permitting the liquor department to investigate his background. Even the liquor department staffer who investigated him allowed that the incidents were "not significant," Perkins said in the letter to the state. Nevertheless, he continued, his superiors subjected him to the "most degrading type of humiliation . . . that brought unnecessary shame and ridicule to a devoted and loyal employee."

Naturally, Jonovich and the others deny all of Perkins' charges, according to court records. In fact, the state two weeks ago asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that the term "missing weenie" is "at worst mere playful name-calling" and because Perkins failed to show how calling him a bratwurst had tarnished his reputation.

"Calling the plaintiff Norman Perkins a `missing weenie,' as alleged . . . does not charge him with harboring a contagious or venereal disease, says nothing concerning his chastity (even if he were a woman, a necessary prerequisite), fails to mention his profession, trade or business, and likewise fails to impute to him the commission of a crime involving moral turpitude," papers filed by the state say.

Hugh Ennis, superintendent of the liquor department, won't comment on the court case or the letter, citing the lawsuit. But he notes that Perkins' beefs about his job problems had been aired in an administrative hearing and the demotion "was upheld."

Says Ennis: "We don't have any problems that aren't normal to state agencies. From time to time, you have personnel disagreements. We aren't having any outside the norm.

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Terry Greene