Hitmen hurriedly stabbed Jaime Sanchez four times, then dashed for anonymity among the other inmates on the sixth floor of Madison Street Jail.
Then Sanchez waited, and waited, and waited some more. Twelve minutes later, detention officers were finally able to secure the scene.
As is increasingly common, the jail was critically short of staff that early Monday morning in late February. Throughout the facility, detention officers were alone in control towers that were designed to be staffed by three people. They can't leave the towers unmanned, so other officers had to be found -- several floors down -- to respond to the emergency.
Luckily for Sanchez, the attack was sloppy work, a rush job. Under smears of blood, the wounds on the presumed gang snitch were shallow and misplaced.
Next time, Madison detention officers say, attackers -- now wise to the slow response time caused by understaffing -- will know to stick around and finish the job.
The jail is critically short of staff, detention officers say, because of years of mismanagement and neglect of vital jail services by Sheriff Joe Arpaio and a few of his top administrators.
Throughout the Sheriff's Office, core services have been eroding quietly for years, numerous current and past employees say. But that erosion was always masked by the sheriff's incessant planting of colorful new programs.
In the last two months, though, this slow erosion has turned into a mudslide.
At the beginning of 2001, the sheriff was somewhere between $6 million and $10 million over budget, depending on whose accounting figures are used.
He began slashing already floundering departments to try to wipe away the overrun by June 30, the end of the fiscal year.
That's a crucial benchmark for the sheriff. If he can't erase the deficit, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors has said it may place his department on a line-item budget, a Draconian accounting process that would be costly and time-consuming for both the Sheriff's Office and Maricopa County. (In the past, once the Sheriff's Office received its county money, it did not have to report details of its spending to the county board.)
He's not going to make it. Even with recent cuts, Arpaio is on target to be about $2.5 million over. That money will come from the county's contingency fund.
If he can't make it to zero, some contend, Arpaio and his top chiefs could be held personally liable under an Arizona statute that prohibits elected officials from knowingly misappropriating earmarked public funds and overspending budgets. (The relevant statute, however, is fraught with loopholes and concerned primarily with administrators pocketing public money. New Times saw no evidence that Arpaio or his top staffers pilfered public coffers for personal financial gain.)
New Times reviewed hundreds of Sheriff's Office and county financial records, many of which were provided by current sheriff's employees. Accountants familiar with the Sheriff's Office and county budgets helped analyze the records and sort through the convoluted maze the sheriff's budget has become in recent years.
New Times interviewed sheriff's employees and inmates, as well as former employees and current Maricopa County staffers familiar with the sheriff's financial situation and daily operations.
Arpaio did not return calls. Sheriff's Office officials refused a request two weeks ago to discuss budget issues in depth. However, Lisa Allen, the office's public information officer, did call shortly before press time to address broader budget issues. Two county supervisors, Fulton Brock and Jan Brewer, did not return calls.
New Times' analysis shows severe cutbacks are putting detention officers and inmates at risk, increasing response times in outlying regions of the county, drastically curtailing the department's ability to serve warrants or transport inmates, and pushing hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses and duties onto other law enforcement agencies in the Valley.
Many of the cutbacks, such as giving inmates two meals instead of three meals a day, clearly place the department on perilous legal ground. Already, the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is exploring a possible lawsuit.
Moreover, the new feeding schedule and other cost-saving or money-generating schemes are actually saving little, if any, and may cost the taxpayers much more due to the potential lawsuits they promote. And the new schemes are clearly crippling other jail services, particularly work furlough and rehabilitation programs, services critical to reducing the number of inmates who return to jail later as repeat offenders.
(That said, one of the new schemes, selling coffee and soda to inmates from a Starbucks-like cart, has brought in $15,000 in less than a month.)
Over the past four years, Arpaio has spent several million dollars on publicity stunts and extravagant perks for sycophants. At the same time, he continued to spend millions propping up ineffective programs that cost far more than he claimed.
Along the way, he bought a howitzer with $15,000 tires and a $70,000 armored car, spent $3 million to move to a penthouse office with big-screen TVs and swanky furniture, approved several hundred thousand dollars' worth of pay increases for his command staff and spent more than a million dollars on dozens of new top-of-the-line Chevrolet and Ford take-home vehicles for his favorite staffers.
To a smaller degree, the sheriff's budget is over its limit because Arpaio has had to pay overtime to cover staffing shortfalls. However, much of that overtime budget was spent on nonessential assignments, the analysis shows. And in several cases, hundreds of hours of overtime were being paid to favored deputies and supervisors for work that, it appears, was never done or was far outside the duties of the Sheriff's Office.
To be fair, some of the money diverted in recent years was spent on equipment and services that have improved the efficiency of the department and the safety of its deputies (although rarely its jail detention officers). Even some of Arpaio's harshest critics agree that some of the spending by his department was aimed at updating the Sheriff's Office with equipment standard in most of America's law enforcement agencies.
And Allen had a much different take on what appears to be gratuitous spending in the Sheriff's Office.
According to Allen, the sheriff went over budget paying for overtime. And the office had to pay overtime because it is short-staffed, and it is short-staffed because county supervisors had driven Sheriff's Office employees to quit by not approving proper pay raises.
Indeed, she says, it's the board's unrealistically small allocations, not Arpaio's overspending, that have caused the problems.
"They don't fully understand what it takes to run a jail," she says.
Arpaio's serious financial problems apparently began three or four years ago, around the time Glenn Christenson, a longtime county employee, became the financial officer for the Sheriff's Office.
Upon Christenson's arrival, Arpaio began going over budget by at least a million dollars each year, according to records and interviews.
Sheriff's insiders say Christenson, Arpaio and chief deputy David Hendershott made a dangerous spending trio. Arpaio provided the grand dreams, Hendershott provided the schemes to make those dreams reality, and Christenson found the money to pay for it all.
Money was diverted to new gizmos and new programs from accounts outside the purview of county officials. Money was bounced back and forth between accounts to give the illusion of balanced books. As pots of money ran dry, unpaid bills were pushed into the next fiscal year, and payments were taken for future services and used to cover present shortfalls.
It's the old accounting trick of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Lots of county departments used to do it. It's a big reason the county ended up $90 million over budget in the early 1990s.
As other county agencies shaped up their books in the '90s, though, the Sheriff's Office became increasingly autonomous and unaccountable.
In the next fiscal year, all county offices will be under an aggressive new management and accounting model designed to reduce duplicative services and increase accountability to taxpayers.
And the Sheriff's Office will have to follow it in the next budget year.
Late last year, the sheriff and his top staff apparently realized that they would no longer be able to shift and shuffle the department's budget with no real oversight. They would soon have to provide precise accounting to county officials and the public of all money spent. At the same time, county supervisors were threatening to take over the sheriff's finances and conduct a detailed audit.
In November, soon after Arpaio was elected to his third term, he and his top staff made a profound turnaround. All of a sudden, under pressure from auditors, they admitted they were broke, hired a new financial officer with stellar county credentials and, beginning in February, began slashing expenses.
Allen says the change came when county administrators approached Arpaio about Christenson's accounting practices.
"The minute we saw what was going on, we made the change," Allen says. "We assumed Glenn knew what he was doing. But it was clear he wasn't smart about everything."
While county officials are publicly praising Arpaio and his top staff, many privately wonder about the impetus for the contrition and how long his newfound civility might last.
By some accounts, Arpaio has made a sort of plea agreement. Arpaio doesn't want his budget run by county supervisors. Nor do supervisors want the tedious and expensive task of running his budget.
The sheriff will cooperate with accountants, give up some unnecessary and expensive equipment, and make a concerted effort to balance his budget. In return, he would appear to be banking that supervisors won't take over his budget or press him on the potentially thorny legal issues of juggling public money and overspending his agency's appropriation. By fall, officials expect that the Sheriff's Office will be back on a fiscally sound track and the longtime fight between the Sheriff's Office and county officials will be over.
This would be a win-win for county elected officials, county financial officers and the sheriff's command staff.
But, at least in the short run, it's a losing proposition for sheriff's employees, inmates and the citizens of Maricopa County.
Some of Arpaio's employees and critics would like to see punishment doled out to those who caused the problem. In their view, county officials should bail out the sheriff to maintain critical services, then hold him and certain members of his command staff personally culpable for the lost millions.
"He is responsible for this meltdown," says a Madison Street Jail detention officer who, like other current employees interviewed for this story, wished not to be identified for fear of reprisal (Arpaio has fired several employees in the past few years who he believed talked to New Times).
"But he won't be the one paying. I'll be the one paying. I guarantee you, one of us is going to die because of all his stupid antics."
Allen also would like a jail bailout, but without the "misplaced blame."
"If we could get with the board and say, 'We can't run the jails so sparsely,' that would be great," she says. "But they don't want to look at the reality of it."
Sheriff Joe Arpaio became an international celebrity by claiming he had created ways to lock up more criminals using fewer tax dollars.
He would put inmates in tents. He would make them work for their rent. He would feed them surplus food, and he would make them pay for that food.
For Americans sick of watching their tax dollars go to house the country's growing inmate population, Arpaio was a welcome panacea.
In a strong law-and-order, tax-hating state with a growing crime rate, Arpaio was perceived as a savior.
And the more groups such as the ACLU or Amnesty International squealed, the more his popularity grew.
But people rejoiced in the spendthrift populist demagoguery without ever checking the books. Arpaio rarely, if ever, stated the full costs of his cost-saving programs. In reality, money was pouring into new bureaucracies to support his anti-bureaucratic programs.
Take his Dollar-A-Day program. With the help of several accountants familiar with both county and Sheriff's Office finances, New Times assessed the genuine cost of this program that Arpaio promised would pump $1 million back into county coffers each year.
In reality, it has cost a minimum of $3 million in additional supplies, additional labor and lost revenue.
The program started four years ago. The idea: Each inmate would pay $1 a day for food. Arpaio would take $30 from them at the beginning of their detention -- enough for one month's food -- then collect again each month.
At a press conference, Arpaio presented the public with what critics call "Joe accounting," his equivalent of fuzzy math. He multiplied the total number of inmates by 365 days and came up with the million or so dollars he would collect and return to the county.
Some staff warned Arpaio that his numbers were way off. And even the newest Sheriff's Office employee knows very few inmates would have $30 a month for such a program.
Inmates are allowed a sort of savings account while in jail. Inmates or their families put money into the account, then draw from it to pay for extra goods or services. Most of the money on an inmate's books goes to buy items from the canteen, the store where inmates can buy candy bars, better soap and other nonessential items.
Under the Dollar-A-Day program, once an inmate was booked into the jail, Arpaio would take $30 from the inmate's account to pay for the first month of food.
In reality, only 16 percent of inmates who enter Maricopa County jails have the money to maintain an account.
That meant, under the program, 84 percent began their stay with a $30 deficit.
Sheriff's Office bookkeepers had never had to keep deficit amounts on their books. They quickly discovered their computerized bookkeeping program wouldn't allow deficits.
So, the program had to be rewritten to accommodate Dollar-A-Day deficits.
It took an $85,000 consultant and several other professionals to make it work. Before Dollar-A-Day was off the ground, it had cost about $250,000 in salaries and consultant fees.
Then another person was hired for $55,000 a year to manage the complicated transaction process created by the new program.
Inmates who do have money also tend to be the inmates who can afford bail or have a decent attorney to get them out quickly.
So, when those who had paid into the system got out early, the jail had to cut them a check. That involved computer time, input time, output time and time to consolidate ledgers. In most of the cases, it cost more money to cut the refund check than was earned in Dollar-A-Day spending.
The canteen, a genuine moneymaker for jail services, suffered. Where the jail had been making $50 per prisoner, it began making only $35.
In all, Dollar-A-Day represented an estimated $3 million shortfall for the jail's Inmate Services, the stated beneficiary of jailhouse moneymakers.
And, instead of killing the program, money was moved from other areas to support it.
Dollar-A-Day isn't the only program whose hidden costs show up in a review of sheriff's records. Nearly every program Arpaio has devised -- and ballyhooed in the media -- bleeds unpublicized red ink.
He says he feeds inmates for less than a dollar a day. In fact, many jails feed inmates with donated surplus foods that keep the price of food per inmate per day below $1.
But that's not the total cost of feeding inmates. Once storage, preparation and other logistics are considered, the price of Arpaio's meals, like meals in jails across the country, is actually much more.
Last year, supposedly to save on air conditioning costs, Arpaio gave inmates 1,000 "Joe fans" so they could fan themselves to keep cool. Detention officers warned the command staff that the fan's handles would make ideal shanks. The program went ahead anyway, and, as detention officers predicted, they were made into knifelike shanks. Detention officers then had to raid the jails to confiscate the fans and shanks. Then more staff time and money went into detention officers' written reports of each incident.
And detention officers say they are still finding some of the fan shanks.
"Here's a perfect example of resources being pulled away from critical services to fix one of Arpaio's blunders," says Chris Gerberry, president of Maricopa County Deputies Association. "And stuff like this happens all the time."
Waste and disingenuous financial claims infect nearly all of the sheriff's programs that go beyond the department's official duties. For instance, the sheriff runs educational programs that clearly would be more cost effective if run by the county's education agencies.
As programs bloated, salaries for command staffers ballooned.
In 1999, the sheriff moved $1 million from funds designated for inmate and aviation expenses to pay for salaries.
In 1998, the sheriff asked the county for extra money to give his employees a 5 percent raise.
Civilian employees have received only 1.25 percent to 2.5 percent raises in recent years.
At the same time, from 1996 to 1999, chief deputy David Hendershott's salary doubled from about $60,000 to $120,000. And salaries increased dramatically for favored deputy chiefs.
In October 1999, Hendershott retired as a peace officer and was hired back the next day as a civilian employee. His salary remained at $120,000, plus he also began collecting $51,000 a year in peace-officer retirement benefits, benefits that had doubled in the three years previous because of his accelerated pay raises.
County supervisors then cut his salary by $51,000. Hendershott sued, and the case wasn't settled until late last month. Under the settlement, Hendershott will get his $120,000 salary, plus $93,000 in back pay, as well as his retirement money, as long as he helps balance the office's budget and bring it into line with the new county accounting practices.
As Hendershott and his top assistants received massive pay raises, Christenson was out leasing a record number of motorcycles and vehicles. Some of the purchases made by the Sheriff's Office were not competitively bid, as required by state law. Last year, Christenson repaid the county $30,000 of his own money for Sheriff's Office motorcycles when it was revealed he hadn't received competitive bids on the Harley-Davidsons.
The bill also has continued to rise for the sheriff's move two years ago into the Wells Fargo building downtown. According to a New Times analysis, when all the costs of rent, architectural designing, computer systems, security systems, furniture and new personnel are considered, the move has so far cost taxpayers a minimum of $3 million.
The Wells Fargo move, for example, was necessary because of severe problems with the administration's old facility. Allen says the renovations were minimal, especially compared to those made in the Maricopa County Attorney's offices in the same building.
"Now those are swanky," she says.
Regardless, by the end of June -- the end of the last fiscal year -- the Sheriff's Office was at least $2.7 million over budget.
So Arpaio made a deal with Qwest, which contracts with the jails to provide collect calls by inmates. Qwest agreed to make an early payment on this year's contract, so Arpaio got $2.7 million on his books before June 30. His accounting disaster was put on hold until the next year.
By early last fall, the game was clearly over. The sheriff's budget was coming under increased scrutiny by county officials. The fight over Hendershott's double dipping continued. Christenson's Harley-Davidson lease deal was a favorite running joke for the county's accountants.
New Times reported in late summer that the sheriff appeared to be about $8 million over budget, a report the sheriff's public relations officers vehemently denied.
County officials called for an independent audit. The accountants were stonewalled by sheriff's officials, but the audit proceeded.
In November, Arpaio won reelection in a landslide. After the election, Arpaio and his command staff began reassigning employees and purging posse members known to have been sympathetic to Arpaio's rivals.
Auditors turned their report over to county supervisors, saying the Sheriff's Office was uncooperative. County officials got angrier and threatened to take over control of Arpaio's budget.
But around Christmas, once the election was safely over, Arpaio's mood changed. He finally admitted he was in budget trouble and agreed something had to be done.
He blamed it primarily on overtime costs due to staffing shortages.
Christenson was removed as financial officer. Arpaio asked county officials for suggestions for a new financial officer, and eventually hired Loretta Barkell, a respected county accountant intimate with the county's new budgeting initiative, Managing for Results.
Christenson took over policy and inmate-canteen operations at a salary of $83,000 a year.
Hendershott, with a settlement deal on his salary dispute in the works, began speaking cordially with county officials.
In late February, the first wave of substantial new cuts was announced within the Sheriff's Office. Hendershott began his memo: "In order to meet critical service requirements for detention and patrol functions, the Sheriff's Office exceeded appropriation levels during the first seven months of the year."
"You've never heard so many people say the word 'bullshit' at once," says one sheriff's supervisor.
Then Hendershott announced the cuts:
Seventy-seven leased vehicles would be returned. Employees would turn in pagers and cell phones. Overtime would be slashed by 90 percent. Hours worked at outlying jails would be severely restricted. Capital equipment purchases would stop for the rest of the year. Travel and education for employees would cease. Office credit cards could no longer be used to buy food, and no new purchase orders would be issued.
All orders for office supplies, computers, special uniforms, guns, ammunition, furniture, chairs, calculators and many other items would be stopped until further notice.
In addition, Arpaio would sell his most expensive helicopter -- a $1.9 million Bell 407 that Arpaio said he needed but clearly didn't. (His best offer is about $900,000 for the two-year-old custom-built machine, a loss of $1 million for taxpayers.)
Attorneys would be charged for calls made by their clients. (That budget-cutting effort is another example of simply shifting the taxpayers' burden; since most inmates are calling public defenders, Arpaio is costing another county entity an estimated $500,000.)
The warrants division would be drastically cut.
Satellite jails in Mesa and Avondale would be closed, meaning outlying city police would have to transport prisoners all the way to downtown Phoenix for booking.
In the jails, prisoners would be sold decaffeinated coffee for $1 to raise money.
And meals would be cut from three a day to two a day.
"Further cost-saving steps are under review," Hendershott wrote in his memo.
"It was like doomsday," a Madison jail detention officer says. "We thought things couldn't get any worse. Then we realized they were going to get a whole, whole lot worse."
The cuts had an immediate impact on numerous Valley police agencies. In Buckeye, for example, the loss of the Avondale jail means officers are having to take as much as four hours longer to transport and book a prisoner. As Buckeye officers drive to Madison jail and wait in line for hours, the citizens of Buckeye are left with only two officers on duty.
"I don't know what we're going to do," says Mike Carey, Buckeye's chief of police. "It is Arpaio's job to transport and house inmates, and now my people are doing it. It's putting my officers and the people of Buckeye in jeopardy to make up for mistakes made in the Sheriff's Office."
In the jails, anger and gallows humor have replaced the last bits of hope and human dignity.
Nowhere is the human toll of Arpaio's financial mismanagement more apparent than in the sheriff's work furlough program, which involves about 700 male and 80 female inmates.
The work furlough inmates are serving time for relatively minor crimes. Volunteers take them to work in the morning and return them to jail in the evening.
It's an effective program. Inmates can keep the jobs they had before sentencing, which keeps stability and responsibility in their lives and allows them to continue to provide financial support for their families. The average work furlough participant contributes about $15 of his or her salary to pay for each day's room and board.
It is a particularly important program for single mothers.
Up until February, the female inmates in the program had their own area in Tent City. They had access to eight bathrooms, showers and sinks, as well as coin-operated laundry facilities and, of course, breakfast before they left and dinner when they returned.
Most women get up between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m., shower, dress, eat breakfast and head off to work between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m.
Then, in February, cuts were made and new programs were put in place at the jails. Those included Arpaio's two-meals-a-day plan to save money.
Fearing a riot by angry inmates, jail staff moved some male inmates out of the overcrowded, understaffed jails into the work furlough women's facilities in Tent City. The women were moved into unused juvenile space.
There, the 80 women had access to two toilets, two sinks and three showers, of which only two worked. They had no washers or dryers and were told to wash their clothes in one of the two sinks.
Now, many of the women never get access to a toilet or shower before heading off to work. Their clothes and uniforms are filthy or badly wrinkled.
Since meals now come later, the women don't get breakfast. When they return from work, some women don't eat until as late as 9:30 p.m.
Several of the work furlough participants are diabetic.
"Some of these women can't get clothes washed, can't get themselves washed, can't get fed," says one of the inmates, who is continuing her job as she serves four months for her second drunken-driving offense. "It may be funny to some people to make their life hell. But now they can't even function properly at work. It is an impossible situation."
Some of the women say they are being offered extra ice cream in an attempt by the sheriff to get them to court-ordered daily calorie levels.
Because of the late meals and logistical problems of Arpaio's new food program, the work furlough women, like inmates throughout the sheriff's jails, are also increasingly unable to attend evening classes provided by inmate services staff and volunteers.
Without students, classes are languishing. So some volunteers say they will soon be leaving.
As will detention officers. With the recent cutbacks, tensions between inmates and the jails' short staffs are at all-time highs, according to officers.
At Madison, officers say they are expecting -- but wholly unprepared for -- a major riot.
Inmates, particularly those associated with the New Mexican Mafia, routinely tell detention officers how many guards are on duty during shifts.
"Guys love to tell me: 'Hey, we figured you've got 41 guys tonight,'" says one Madison detention officer. "And they're usually right."
Guards have been unable to determine how several inmates have been increasingly able to slip out of their cells. Apparently, inmates have found a new way to partially jam cell doors so they appear locked but, with some jiggering, will open.
Detention officers feel isolated, outgunned and betrayed by Arpaio and Hendershott. Promised raises didn't materialize. Minimum staffing levels have quietly been dropped to save money. (A full staff for Madison was more than 300 people a decade ago. Now it is closer to 200.) They blame Arpaio's oddball spending habits and his gleeful disregard for human rights for the tense conditions in the jails.
"He's diverted money away from detention officers to pay for ridiculous programs and new chiefs, he's let the jails go to hell, he fires anybody who questions him or speaks to the press and he goes about building an inmate population that's so pissed off that they can't wait to take off somebody's head," says the Deputies Association's Gerberry. "Is it any wonder that morale doesn't exist and everybody who can quit does?"
Several officers say they have given family members explicit instructions to sue Joe Arpaio if they're killed.
"We might just as well have something to show for it," a Madison officer says during a recent New Times meeting with several officers.
Several detention officers say a siege mentality is beginning to grip the jail staff. Some make foreboding assessments of their state of mind.
"At some point, when you're so far out on a limb, you say, 'Screw protocol and reasonable force,'" says one detention officer. "If I feel like I'm fighting for my life, it means his life or mine."
"It's a powder keg," Gerberry says. "And it's going to blow up."
Loretta Barkell, the sheriff's new financial officer, has been working openly with county financial officers and the Board of Supervisors. She has found a financial disaster, but financial officers say they are confident the Sheriff's Office can be brought into compliance with the county's own budget initiative.
Under the new budget program, Managing for Results, the Sheriff's Office would have to better justify expenses and more thoroughly prove those expenses are having the desired outcome.
If followed to the letter, though, the criteria would appear to demand a systemic gutting of numerous bloated, ineffective and duplicative programs. (Even traditional Sheriff's Office administrative units, such as human resources, duplicate some county functions and would appear doomed under the Managing for Results ax.)
In reality, though, in the sheriff's case, Managing for Results will mostly govern only new expenses.
"We will still be saddled with most of the old problems," says a Sheriff's Office employee. "We just won't make as many new ones."
Clouding the future, too, are the ramifications from the myriad past and present mistakes. Staff morale is in free fall. Arpaio's command staff is fractionalized between supporters of Hendershott and supporters of other up-and-coming deputy chiefs.
With the recent cuts in food and services, as well as the staffing shortfalls, the Sheriff's Office is clearly in violation of minimum jail standards ordered by a 1984 court decision, which could lead to more lawsuits that will likely cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
Some $16 million has already been paid to successful plaintiffs. More than $25 million in lawsuits has yet to be resolved.
Millions more are spent defending the Sheriff's Office. To be fair, though, some lawsuits would appear to be frivolous.
"We've got to defend ourselves," Allen says.
The county's insurance premium will increase because of Arpaio's jailhouse bravado. Financial officers still aren't sure how much.
In fact, much of the fallout from Arpaio's administration has yet to be clearly understood.
One of the county's accountants with knowledge of the sheriff's budget did, however, give some indication of what's to come:
"I think when it's all said and done, Arpaio won't be remembered as America's Toughest Sheriff.
"He'll be remembered as the World's Most Expensive Sheriff."
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.