The director of the Arizona Department of Economic Security, Tim Jeffries, plans to take roughly 200 letters from pious DES employees to a popular religious site in France later this month.
Jeffries requested the letters in an April 10 e-mail about the trip he sent to the state agency's entire workforce of 7,700 employees — an action that may have violated state policy, says the Secular Coalition for Arizona. He's paying for the trip himself and going on his own time — for the seventh year in a row.
In the April 10 e-mail verified by the DES, Jeffries reminded employees of his membership in the Order of Malta, a 900-year-old Catholic charitable organization, and said he'll serve sick people in Lourdes, France, at the end of the month.
"If you are comfortable, I would be immensely honored to carry your special intentions to the Grotto at Massabielle on the River Gave in Lourdes," Jeffries wrote. "If you are moved to do this, simply place your special intentions in a MS Word document, then PDF the private document. Upon doing so, please e-mail the PDF to me. I promise that your private intentions will not be read. Your special intentions will be printed, and placed in a confidential envelope for my humble delivery to the Grotto."
The Grotto is a site of several appearances by the Virgin Mary in the 19th century, and its waters have miraculous healing powers — or so some say. According to more cynical sources, Lourdes, said to draw more pilgrims each year than Mecca, is a "Disneyland of God" where hucksters and religious-merchandise shops fleece tourists.
“Director Jeffries has long been known for his ‘quirky’ style of leadership, which includes frequent mention of his religious views in DES all-employee meetings and on video presentations,” said Zenaido Quintana, chair of the Arizona secular group. “This latest all-employee e-mail, which was sent to us by a DES employee disturbed by its contents, is particularly egregious and could have had him fired from many companies — organizations where policies are in place to prevent work e-mail from being used to proselytize religion."
The state's employee handbook says that, "Any use of State property for other than State-business purposes must be exercised in accordance with your agency’s policies and procedures," Quintana said, adding that Jeffries' "dissemination of personal religious beliefs is not considered legitimate State business."
The coalition has been on heightened alert this year following what appeared to be targeted discrimination at the state Legislature against an openly atheist lawmaker, Juan Mendez (D-Tempe). House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro (R-Litchfield Park) issued a proclamation on January 27 that the prayer that begins every House session must include a "solemn request for guidance and help from God."
Jeffries, in an e-mail last week to all DES employees, said he's received about 200 "special intentions" to take to the Grotto.
"THANK YOU for the humbling honor," he wrote of the employees who had accepted his invitation. "My special assistant Nicole Lewis is tracking all of them, and will make absolutely certain that I hand carry them to Southern France."
New Times asked Jeffries if he used state resources to print out the 200 letters, and if Nicole Lewis is a DES employee. He replied, "I print petitions at Casa Jeffries in Scottsdale where I keep the special intentions in my family chapel prior to venturing to Lourdes."
He added, "Nicole Lewis is a trusted colleague and DES employee. She serves as my project specialist (aka special assistant) focused on colleague engagement, collaboration, and assistance. Among her many key duties, she ensures that I never miss a colleague's request for help of any kind."
Jeffries prefers to call employees of the agency "colleagues" and often speaks of his love for them, but sometimes it's a tough love: He's overseen the firing of 291 people as of this month, or about 4 percent of the agency, since he was appointed by Governor Doug Ducey more than a year ago.
Jeffries full letter to employees follows:
From: Jeffries, Timothy
Sent: Sunday, April 10, 2016 3:27 PM
To: *All DES Employees
Happy Sunday, my dear friends and colleagues.
Some of you may recall that my beloved wife Mary Frances and I are members of the Order of Malta. Among the many things, the 968 year history of the Order continues to amaze, humble and inspire us. The Order was founded in Jerusalem in 1048 AD, and granted papal recognition in 1113 AD. The Order's global works for the poor and the sick frame, fuel and sustain us!! In fact, a couple of my tattoos are inspired by the Order, one reads "OBSEQUIUM PAUPERUM" which literally means "Obedience to the Poor" and the sick.
Every year towards the end of April, the global Order brings the seriously afflicted and dying from our respective countries to Lourdes, France where we lovingly serve them for 8 days. As a result, we seek to lighten their ofttimes incomprehensibly heavy burdens, and bring light to darkness that can surely seem to never end. Quite thankfully, this will be my 7th year in a row of humble service, and I promise to carry all of you in my heart when I am serving those in great need.
If you are comfortable, I would be immensely honored to carry your special intentions to the Grotto at Massabielle on the River Gave in Lourdes. If you are moved to do this, simply place your special intentions in a MS Word document, then PDF the private document. Upon doing so, please email the PDF to me. I promise that your private intentions will not be read. Your special intentions will be printed, and placed in a confidential envelope for my humble delivery to the Grotto.
Thank you again for all of your support, engagement, encouragement and kindness. I have never felt so loved by so many. I hope you feel loved too. Together, we are the very best.
Joyfully in service,
DITAT DEUS :-)