LONELY AT THE TOP
The Skinny reported last week that Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller had a new chief of staff, Jeannie Davis Haldersen, to replace Jennifer Coyle, who abruptly resigned about a month ago.
Haldersen's appearance on the 11th floor of the downtown county building isn't likely to ease the growing tensions between Miller and her fellow supervisors, given that she was the spokeswoman for Republican Sean Collins' unsuccessful effort to unseat District 4 Supervisor Ray Carroll in the 2012 GOP primary.
The Skinny also mentioned last week that our earlier prediction that more of Miller's staff would soon be departing had not yet come to pass. Well, in accordance with prophecy, two more staffers are now in search of greener pastures: Roxanne Ziegler, who also serves on the Marana Town Council, is headed out the door, as is the office intern, Max Daffron, who handles the office's Facebook page and other social media initiatives.
Miller told radio host James T. Harris last week that Daffron would be back after he takes a break for the summer, but he seems like a smart kid and we hope he can find a better gig.
It's been a tough year for Miller, a Republican elected to represent Oro Valley, Marana and the Catalina foothills in 2012. Her relentless accusations of corruption and mismanagement have put her so at odds with her fellow supervisors and the county staff that in mid-February, the board voted to move transportation dollars out of her district and put them toward a project in Carroll's district. (Miller says it was political payback for her efforts to expose their wrongdoing; the other supes say Miller had ignored the suggestions of the transportation staff and moved the road projects to little-used residential streets and minor arterials, including one in her own neighborhood. You can find more details about that dust-up in "Ally's Follies," Tucson Weekly, March 6.)
Miller's complaints about the cost of a proposed new animal-care shelter have dog-and-cat lovers mad at her. Her attacks on The Loop have the bicycling community unhappy. And her occasionally bizarre behavior—such as calling 911 because she was unhappy with a Tucson Weekly article, or posing for photos posted on an online blog as if she had fallen into a Marana pothole—is reducing her to a punch line in some circles.
Now her staff is jumping ship—and judging from some internal emails between Miller and Coyle that were released to the Weekly last Friday, May 2, we can see why Miller's office could be a tough place to work.
The problems between Coyle and Miller appeared to have started after a PowerPoint presentation went haywire at a town hall in Oro Valley on Thursday, March 20.
The details about the PowerPoint episode aren't entirely clear to us, but Miller was so upset that a certain slide was not presented properly that she fired off an email to Coyle and another staffer, Joe Cuffari, shortly after the town hall wrapped up.
"I am extremely pissed off that presentation you didn't have my slide in that I had done the comparisons on," Miller wrote in the scrambled message, time-stamped at 8:38 p.m. "That was my last phone call to you and you said you would get it in there and give to (redacted). Instead the county's lousy slides were there. I trusted that would get done. Joe please get the presentation updated wit the post we did on fb and get rid of the county's slide ...that is a confusing disaster on purpose."
That message evidently wasn't all Miller needed to get the issue off her chest. A few hours later, at 1:43 a.m. on Friday, March 21, Miller fired off a rambling message chastising Coyle and Cuffari for their handling of an easement issue that's been raised between Pima County and Marana. She was upset that the staffers had been answering questions from constituents outside of a town meeting.
"I'm not sure what happened outside meeting last night but if you were answering questions, don't ever take questions again," Miller wrote. "Those should have been asked of me in the meeting and you should have gotten their information and recorded their questions. Never express an opinion either. Again, this is getting political. ... I do NOT want staff ever answering questions on my behalf unless specifically directed to state my position on an issue. This is the last time I want this to happen."
By the middle of the next week, Miller was sending early morning emails instructing Coyle to cross-train Cuffari on creating the District 1 newsletter and to let him know the secret passwords, and locations of confidential material. (That kind of note is generally a bad sign regarding your future at any organization.)
Miller fired off another angry email to Coyle and Cuffari at 5:19 a.m. on Monday, March 31, to criticize them for their failure to properly prep her for a meeting with Sabino Canyon-area constituents concerned about an impending rezoning.
But that was the extent of the written record—until 9:07 p.m. on Tuesday, April 8, when Coyle wrote to let Miller know she was taking the rest of the week off on sick leave.
Miller fired off an email at 4:31 a.m. on Wednesday, April 9, saying she needed to see Coyle in the office: "Jennifer ... I need to speak with you this morning. I was planning on coming in at 8 am. Please call me at home."
Then she followed up one minute later with an email suggesting that Coyle call her immediately, despite the early hour: "Or you can call me now."
Less than two hours later, at 6:19 a.m., she wrote to Coyle again: "Since I haven't received a reply, I will plan to see you next week."
Coyle evidently decided against having that meeting with Miller. Two days later, at 7:02 a.m. on Friday, April 11, Coyle delivered a simple resignation letter.
"It is with much consideration that I am resigning from my position as executive assistant effective Friday, April 25, 2014," Coyle wrote, adding that she intended to burn through vacation days for the remainder of her schedule rather than return to the office to see Miller again.
"I have left my office keys, iPad and iPhone on my desk," she wrote. "Thank you for the opportunities you have provided me and I wish you and your office great success in the future."
This episode does not have the hallmarks of a graceful exit or an amicable separation.
Miller did not return a phone call from the Weekly to discuss her recent staff changes.
We could have more fireworks at the next Pima County Board of Supervisors meeting.
Supervisor Ally Miller has requested that the board once again revisit who gets appointed to the board of the Southwest Fair Commission (which, confusingly, is also known as the Pima County Fair Commission).
The Southwest Fair Commission board has been a little-noticed panel that basically oversees the management of the fairgrounds. You probably don't give it much thought, but the fairgrounds are a venue and the managers need to figure out how to rent it out in such a way as to at least cover some of its expenses so it doesn't require a big subsidy from the county.
The fair commission is run by an executive director, Jon Baker, who answers to the Southwest Fair Commission board of directors, whose members are appointed by the Board of Supervisors. The custom in the past has been to allow each county supervisor to pick one member of the commission—but that may be changing.
Since her election in 2012, Miller has twice attempted to give the boot to Pima County Fair Commission Chairman Marvin Selke. She first tried to appoint businessman and radio host Joe Higgins (who has served as one of Miller's closest political advisers), but the other supervisors blocked her. Earlier this year, Miller tried again with David Gerovac, a general contractor who gave Miller $430 during her 2012 campaign. But the supes once again stopped her, saying that Selke's term wasn't up and supervisors had no authority to remove him before the completion of his term.
Selke's term comes to an end June 30 and Miller is once again looking into the appointment process. At the supervisors meeting scheduled for Tuesday, May 13, she wants the board to discuss how appointments will be made in the future. Miller hasn't explained why she wants to kick Selke to the curb after more than three decades of service, except to say that she likes the idea of "new blood."
Miller hasn’t explained why she wants to kick Selke to the curb after more than three decades of service, except to say that she likes the idea of “new blood.”
Her fellow supervisors might not go along with Miller’s plans, however. Board Chairwoman Sharon Bronson says Selke has been an outstanding member of the fair board and removing him from the board would mean that there would be no one with experience in the agricultural community.
We’ll see how it plays out next Tuesday.