Jerry Sheridan, chief deputy under Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, is a reasonable guy compared to the corrupt man he replaced -- but he sure sucks at math.
In a column that ran in the Arizona Republic's opinion section on Monday, Sheridan claims that "Sheriff Arpaio is a fiscally responsible steward who has come in under budget for all but one year of his 21 years in office, even returning money back to county coffers in the amount of $42.8 million since 2003."
Sounds wonderful. Yet during the same timeframe, the Sheriff's Office unlawfully took $111 million from a taxpayer-funded jail-improvement fund and used it to pay for salaries and other expenses that his budget should have paid for.
Sheridan knows this because he admitted it two years ago, when the county discovered the massive misspending. (The total was pegged originally at $99.5 million, but county officials came up with the larger number after an audit.)
We won't get into the question of whether Arpaio's office robbed from the fund intentionally or not. Or whether the county would have allowed Arpaio's office to use extra millions from the county's general fund if Arpaio had asked for it, if his agency truly needed the money to pay its deputies.
All you need to know is basic math: Tens of millions misappropriated for operating expenses does not equal tens of millions saved on operating expenses.
Here's what Sheridan told one news agency in April of 2011:
"We paid deputies' salaries out of the jail tax fund because they were originally assigned to the detention function of court services," said Interim Chief Deputy Sheriff Jerry Sheridan. "As we transferred them out, the paperwork didn't follow."
It doesn't take a budget analyst to realize that if the salaries had been paid out of the Sheriff's Office general fund instead of raiding the jail tax fund, there would have been no $43 million in savings to return to the county.
The Sheriff's Office did not respond to a request for comment.
Sheridan's estimate of savings and claims of fiscal responsibility also doesn't deduct the tens of millions spent by taxpayers to defend against and settle lawsuits filed because of alleged -- and in many cases, proven -- misdeeds by Arpaio and his deputies. New Times estimated in 2007 that jail-related lawsuits alone cost the county $41 million, and that was seven years ago. More recently, Arpaio's unethical antics with former County Attorney Andrew Thomas cost the county about $28 million. Sheridan admits in his Monday column that the racial-profiling allegations against Arpaio by themselves are resulting in at least $22 million in costs.
Clearly, none of this adds up to $43 million in savings, either.
Sheridan's column implies that taxpayers are getting hosed on the $22 million, because Arpaio and his deputies didn't actually commit racial profiling. And that, of course, is even more unbelievable than the idea that Sheriff's Office is a "fiscally responsible steward" of taxpayer money.
It also bears repeating here that Sheridan believes his boss can be a downright untrustworthy fink. During a probe of unethical practices under Arpaio, Sheridan described how he was one of the people who told Arpaio he seemed to be letting the former chief deputy, Dave Hendershott, act without supervision:
Sheridan told investigators in 2010 that he once told Arpaio that Hendershott was "running the place."
"Ah, that's bullshit -- I run this office," Arpaio told him in reply.
Sometimes Sheridan knew the right thing to do and tried to make suggestions to Arpaio. The sheriff would "tell me I was stupid" and do the "opposite of what I said," Sheridan told investigators.
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Sheridan complained to the investigators that when he tried speaking to Arpaio in confidence about Hendershott, who later was scapegoated and fired by Arpaio, the sheriff ratted him out.
"The sheriff was not worried about protecting his source of information," Sheridan told investigators. Hendershott eventually would find out what Sheridan had told Arpaio and then "you'd get your ass kicked" by Hendershott.
Sheridan has been in Hendershott's old job for more than two years now. Presumably, he's learned to trust the sheriff, who maybe has learned to trust him. With Monday's sort-of fiscal analysis and revision of history on the racial-profiling allegations, it's still a question whether the public can trust either of them.