News

My Eddie Bauer Ford Explorer, the Car

Joe Arpaio likes to call himself the Country's Toughest Sheriff. Now Rick Romley's angling for the title "Sportiest County Attorney."

For the past few weeks, Romley's been cruising around town in a spiffy brand-new white Ford Explorer--the deluxe Eddie Bauer edition, no less--courtesy of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

Quite a change from the stodgy Crown Victoria he'd been driving before.
Romley doesn't own the car, but he drives it to and from work, as well as to public appearances and speeches, says his spokesman, Bill FitzGerald, who adds, "[Romley] goes out to crime scenes from time to time and he'll just show up and talk to the people that are there."

County supervisors balked when Romley asked for the new sport-utility vehicle, price tag $28,804, three grand more than a new Crown Vic. That's not surprising, since county supervisors and their staff get a little grumpy when the subject of county cars comes up. They were forced to give up their own cars--albeit less hip Ford Crown Victorias and Chevy Caprices--in 1994, during the county's budget crisis. Today, only a handful of county officials, including Romley and Sheriff Joe Arpaio (1998 Crown Victoria), has the luxury of a personal car. Other county officials are forced to borrow cars on an as-needed basis from the county motor pool.

You'd think that someone (like Romley) who makes $88,000 a year could afford to buy his own Ford Explorer, if that's what he really wanted. But no . . .

So the county attorney used RICO funds (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization funds, which come from assets seized in drug busts and other crimes) to buy the Explorer.

This gave county officials a chuckle, since last year Romley took them to task after Supervisor Fulton Brock accused the county attorney of using the county's RICO money as a slush fund.

FitzGerald defends his boss's car-buying decision as selfless: Romley listened to the county attorney investigators who will get his car when he casts it aside, after he's put 100,000 miles on it.

"A lot of the art cards and things that they use in trials, they'll transfer from downtown down to the south [southeast division of the county court system] or wherever they're going to trial. It's easier to carry them and then it's easier to carry people in [the Explorer] if you go out there as a group," FitzGerald says.

Further, FitzGerald says, Romley needs the Explorer because of his disability. Romley lost both legs above the knees in Vietnam, and must use hand controls to operate a car.

"He's a little higher off the road, and he feels a little more secure, a little more protected, a little safer even than he was in the Crown Vic," FitzGerald says. As with any other car Romley drives, the Explorer was fitted with hand controls.

For the record, Romley got a good deal on the two-wheel-drive, six-cylinder Explorer--about $1,000 less than the sticker price, according to a local dealer.

FitzGerald doesn't understand why anyone cares.
"Somebody has a burr in their saddle about it," he says. "I don't know why. It's not the Crown Vic anymore. When he got rid of the Crown Vic, it was like, 'Oooh, wow, he went to one of those. How could he do that?' But the reality is that he talked to the investigations people and said, 'What do we want? What would help?' And our overall long-term plan is to start getting more of the utility vehicle and not just cars, because they're just more practical in the long run."

Not to mention a whole lot trendier.

Contact Amy Silverman at her online address: [email protected]

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.