by Jim Nintzel
Here’s the latest twist in the ongoing war between Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller and the other four members of the Board of Supervisors: One of Miller’s former employees said last week that Miller pressured him into filing a bullying complaint against fellow Supervisor Ray Carroll.
Joe Cuffari, who was fired by Miller in August and now works in the county’s flood-control office, filed a complaint last April that Carroll had intimidated him after a conversation regarding Carroll’s daughter.
But on Nov. 12, Cuffari said in a letter to Human Resources Director Allyn Bulzomi that he wanted to “formally rescind my bullying allegation against District 4 Supervisor Raymond Carroll.”
“I was told to file the claim as a directive from my former employer, and I now wish to fully excuse myself from my past employment,” Cuffari wrote.
Carroll, a Republican who is serving his fifth term on the Board of Supervisors, said that he was grateful that Cuffari was recanting his allegations.
“Obviously, this young man was raised right and his conscience apparently bothered him and he stepped forward to clear my name,” Carroll said. “From the very beginning, I proclaimed my innocence. I never harassed anybody in the county building or anywhere else.”
Miller, a Republican who was elected to her first term representing District 1 in 2012, said she was “surprised by Mr. Cuffari’s allegations.”
“We don’t force anybody to do anything here,” Miller said. “I never called him in and said, ‘You need to file a complaint against Mr. Carroll.’”
In his now-recanted complaint, Cuffari said that Carroll had “reprimanded” him during a break in a meeting after Cuffari made a comment about Carroll’s daughter’s new tattoo, which Cuffari had seen on Facebook.
In his interview with the county’s investigator, Cuffari said that Carroll asked him: “Why are you talking about my daughter? You’re embarrassing me. I demand an apology. You need to jump off of Supervisor Miller’s sinking ship.”
Later that day, Cuffari said that Carroll tried to corner him in an elevator but he eluded the District 4 supervisor.
Miller gave Cuffari a pay raise within days of his filing his April complaint, but she later fired him in August.
The county’s investigation into the bullying, completed in May, found no evidence that Carroll was creating a hostile work environment for Miller’s employees.
Miller said she helped her employees file the complaint against Carroll because she saw him confronting members of her staff and wanted to protect them, especially when Cuffari appeared “visibly shaken” after the encounter in the elevator.
“It is my responsibility to provide a safe and threat-free workplace,” Miller said. “I stood up for my employees.”
Miller said it was “unfortunate” that Cuffari had recanted the charges.
“He’s a young kid and he made a huge mistake, because now it’s out in the public square—I never intended for it to be there—regarding him being terminated from my employ.”
Cuffari declined to comment for this story.
Miller has frequently clashed with Carroll and the three Democrats on the Board of Supervisors. She has criticized them as corrupt and incompetent in radio interviews and other venues. She also filed a complaint alleging violations of the state’s open-meeting law with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, but the complaint was dismissed for lack of evidence.
Miller has had other episodes with unfounded accusations. During the her 2012 campaign for office, Miller claimed the county had lost track of more than $300 million in the transportation budget; after Pima
County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry explained how Miller had misread the budget, she never brought up the charges once she was elected. She also claimed on a radio show that developers were telling her they had to hire favored consultants to get rezonings and construction permits; after Huckelberry denied the allegations and provided a lengthy list of the various consultants who had worked on county projects, Miller dropped the subject after saying she’d hand off her charges to the proper authorities.
Cuffari is one of many employees who have been through Miller’s office. Since taking office less than two years ago in January 2013, Miller had has seen eight of her own hires move on: Cuffari, Mark Brazier, Josh Brown, Jennifer Coyle, Sergio Mendez, Lynne St. Angelo, Roxanne Ziegler and Naomi Oku-Alonzo. (Oku-Alonzo, the most recent hire, lasted less than two months; she came on board as a special staff assistant on Sept. 2 and was gone by Oct. 24.)
In same amount of time, District 2 Supervisor Ramon Valadez, District 4 Supervisor Ray Carroll and District 5 Supervisor Richard Elias have each lost one employee, while District 3 Supervisor Sharon Bronson hasn’t lost any.
Miller said there are various reasons for the turnover, including the pressure of working for a controversial supervisor in a political atmosphere, which she believes led to former chief of staff Coyle’s resignation in April. Coyle now works in the county’s Wastewater Management Department.
“I’m kind of shaking things up, and I think that was very hard on her as an employee and I don’t think she dealt with that very well,” Miller said. “You’ve got to be strong and it’s not softball.”
Miller said she was on solid ground with her employees.
“I have good relations with every one of my employees,” Miller said.
But some former employees who spoke to the Weekly on the condition of anonymity say the turnover is the result of Miller’s management style.
“She’s a horrible manager,” one former employee said. “She doesn’t know how to ask people to do things in a professional manner. It’s just kind of bark, bark, bark.”
Other former employees tell similar stories: Miller was a temperamental and paranoid boss who regularly accused her employees of leaking to the press or to Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. Miller was convinced that Huckelberry was manipulating many of the people around her and had even planted Coyle in the District 1 office as Miller’s chief of staff, according to one ex-employee.
Miller said this week that she didn’t believe that Coyle was planted in the office to spy on her on Huckelberry’s behalf.
“I hired Jennifer Coyle because I thought she was well qualified for the job,” Miller said.
One former employee said that working in Miller’s office was OK, as long as Miller herself wasn’t around—which was a good portion of the time because, other than the Tuesday board meeting, Miller frequently worked from home.
“Her reason for not being in the office, of course, is that it was bugged,” the former employee told the Weekly. “The phones were bugged and the office was bugged and the computer was bugged. So she worked at home where there were no bugs.”
To avoid surveillance, Miller insisted on using encrypted drives to pass around information, “like we were working on Mission Impossible,” recalled one source.
Miller laughed when asked about whether she was concerned about electronic surveillance.
“That is so funny,” she said. “No, I don’t think Chuck is spying on me. I communicate with Chuck on a regular basis.”