New Times has forced two more law enforcement officials to follow a little-known state law, but it's likely that many other elected officials in Arizona still aren't following it.
In an article last week, New Times revealed that a statute passed by the Arizona Legislature in 2010 requires local governments to report any spending of public money on non-routine items that contain the name or picture of any elected official.
It's an excellent law that puts potential taxpayer-funded shenanigans under a spotlight. The expenditures must be publicized online by the Arizona Department of Administration (ADOA). Just one problem: Elected officials around the state have blown off the requirement.
As New Times reported, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery has been the only elected official in Arizona to comply with the law, dutifully telling the public about public money he spent in 2013 and 2014 on things that promoted his name or image, like fitted tablecloths, DVD covers, and calendars. While some elected officials simply haven't made these type of expenditures, others certainly have — but they haven't told the public about it, like they were supposed to.
After getting contacted by New Times, the Pima County Attorney's Office and Maricopa County Sheriff's Office have become the latest to reveal that they haven't complied with the law.
"We do believe we may have some expenditures that fall into this statute," says Tom Weaver, chief of the civil division under five-term Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall. "The statute seemed to escape most people's attention. I don't know how that happened. It's unusual."
The previous article noted that last December, Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office announced that it had decorated several vans with anti-drug messages — which, of course, included his full name. Now, that expense as well as other expenditures on trucks, photos, name plates, and even stationery are under review for compliance with the public-reporting statute.
"We were unaware of the ... statute until recently," Arpaio's spokeswoman, Lisa Allen, says. "When we became aware of its existence, we began moving towards compliance."
An MCSO official "is in the process of assigning monetary value to each item that names or depicts the sheriff or his image," she says. "Once done, a final tally of the [estimated] value will be provided "to the ADOA.
Pinal County Sheriff Babeu Office also revealed it has made expenditures that probably fall under the statute that weren't reported, like thumb-drives and refrigerator magnets bearing the sheriff's name.
Pima County's Weaver says he contacted the ADOA for advice on the law, but officials there weren't able to help him. He points out that the law doesn't give a deadline or other instructions to local governments on reporting the expenditures to the state.
"Maybe they'll fix it and come out with guidance," he says.
Megan Rose, spokeswoman for the ADOA, says the department hasn't issued letters to elected officials or done anything to ensure compliance with the law. The law requires the ADOA only to collect the submitted information and publish it in a publicly accessible database.
Clearly, local governments around the state need to review their expenditures and determine if they should have submitted reports as required. But no one's going to make them do it, and there are no penalties for failing to comply. Still, as Montgomery has shown, the law must be followed.
Weaver points out that it's not just elected county officials who should check for compliance — the law also applies to mayors, city councils, and other elected positions in local governments.
New Times has a pending request with Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton's office to find out if he and other city elected officials have made non-routine, promotional expenditures, and is also inquiring with other cities and counties.
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.