Longform

WHEN HEADS ROLLED AT DPSNEW TIMES GETS INSIDE THE GOVERNOR'S ATTEMPTED COUP

Page 4 of 7

Ayars is not a charismatic figure, but a steady administrator given to wearing short-sleeve shirts with his jacket and tie. Others in law enforcement characterize Ayars as a straightforward, by-the-book administrator who can sometimes come across as abrupt and "sanctimonious." While generally respected, several DPS sources indicated there is a small faction of officers--primarily assigned to highway patrol and criminal investigations--that resents what it perceives as Ayars' air of moral superiority.

Ayars also had an ace up his sleeve with the stand-in governor: Mofford, whose brother was a state highway patrolman in the days before that agency was brought under the auspices of DPS, had extensive contacts in law enforcement and remembered Ayars' father from when he had been sheriff of Yavapai County.

"When Phelps heard that Ayars was Mofford's choice, he just lost it," one DPS source says. "He went to Ayars and told him he couldn't take the job, that he wasn't qualified, that it was his job, he was entitled to it. He told Ayars if he took the job he [Ayars] would be disloyal."

Ayars, however, accepted Mofford's appointment as interim head of DPS in August 1989, served the remainder of Milstead's term and was confirmed as the new director in January 1990. While Phelps was disappointed that Mofford failed to choose him, some say he was more upset because he believed that Ayars lobbied Mofford for the job after telling Phelps he would not seek the position.

Ayars denies he ever asked for the job.
"I never had any conversations with the Governor about the DPS job," Ayars says. "In fact, I think it was rather a severe shock to the executive staff when I was chosen. I had no idea I was being considered."

While Ayars could have removed Phelps as his deputy--departmental rules would have allowed the new director to reassign all department heads and senior staff without any repercussions--Ayars elected to keep his former superior on as his deputy.

"Gary Phelps had broad experience," Ayars says. "He had been the deputy director under Ralph Milstead, and he was my choice. And in discussing it with Governor Mofford, she made it clear he was her choice [for deputy head]. When he indicated he wanted to remain, we came to agreement."

It was not, however, a good working relationship. Ayars describes it as "strained."

"Apparently, Gary had trouble working for a boss who had been a subordinate," a high-level DPS officer says. "It just went against his grain."

By the summer of 1990, the friction was palpable and Ayars wanted to remove Phelps. Again going through channels, he went to the Governor's Office to ask for advice. Mofford talked him out of it.

So Phelps stayed on as deputy director through 1990, through the gubernatorial races and into the new year. Since the gubernatorial run-off would not allow the next governor the usual three-month transition period before taking office, the Mofford administration created transition teams to brief both Fife Symington and Terry Goddard. About a week before the election, the Goddard transition team met with the ranking officers at DPS.

Andy Hurwitz, an attorney who served as chairman of the Goddard transition team, says he was mildly surprised that Phelps was at the meeting, because there were newspaper reports that Phelps would be leaving.

"There had been reports that Gary, who I knew, was going to go up to the Ninth Floor if Symington won the election," Hurwitz says. "So I kind of ribbed him about it: I said, `Gary, what are you doing here? The paper says you're going to take a job with Fife.' And he said, `Well, Andy, you know that's not true, you can't believe everything that's in the paper. I have no intention of leaving DPS.'"

There were plenty of reasons to think Phelps might leave DPS. Not only was there friction with Ayars, but Phelps had a longtime interest in politics, dating back to the days when he had provided security for Governor Jack Williams. More recently, he and his wife had become personal friends with the Symingtons--Ernalee worked as a volunteer in the gubernatorial campaign.

Phelps had also just passed a retirement plateau--with 24 years of service to DPS, he could retire and still draw 62 percent of his $85,000-per-year salary. And the job with Symington paid him an additional $80,000 per year. Since he had been passed over for the top job at DPS--and Ayars' contract would not expire until 1995--it was reasonable to think he might be in line for a job in the Symington administration.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Philip Martin