Another 26 Names Added To Arizona Peace Officers Memorial

Another 26 Names Added To Arizona Peace Officers Memorial

By Terri Jo Neff |

May 15 was National Peace Officers Memorial Day, which saw 619 names of officers killed in the line of duty across the country added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington D.C.  Among the names were 472 officers who died in 2021, including 319 fatalities from COVID-19 which were determined to be related to the performance of duty. 

In Arizona, 26 law enforcement officers died last year in the line of duty. On May 2, Gov. Doug Ducey joined with the families, friends, and co-workers of the fallen to pay tribute to the sacrifices of those public safety professionals during a service at the Arizona Peace Officers Memorial located at the State Capitol.

Ducey read the names of the officers during the memorial service:

  • Chandler Police Officer Tyler Britt, End of Watch: Jan. 11, 2021
  • ASU Officer Joseph Henry Montgomery, EOW: Jan. 14, 2021
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer Byron Don Shields, EOW: Jan. 20, 2021
  • FBI Special Agent Jimmie John Daniels, EOW: Feb. 1, 2021
  • Maricopa County Juvenile Probation Officer John A. Gilbert, EOW: Feb. 21, 2021
  • Chandler Police Officer Christopher Farrar, EOW: April 30, 2021
  • Nogales Police Officer Jeremy Brinton, EOW: May 21, 2021
  • Phoenix Police Officer Ginarro A. New, EOW: May 31, 2021
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer Ruben Facio, EOW: July 17, 2021
  • U.S. Border Patrol Supervisory Agent Daniel P. Cox, EOW: July 31, 2021
  • Phoenix Police Officer Mathew A. Hefter, EOW: August 7, 2021
  • Maricopa County Sheriff’s Detention Officer Alicia Dawn Carter, EOW: Aug. 9, 2021
  • U.S Border Patrol Agent Chad E. McBroom, EOW: Aug. 29, 2021
  • Phoenix Police Sgt. Thomas Crawford Craig, EOW: Sept. 3, 2021
  • Maricopa County Sheriff’s Detention Officer Kendall Thomas, EOW: Sept. 10, 2021
  • Phoenix Police Officer Phillip Vavrinec, Jr., EOW: Sept. 22, 2021
  • U.S. Border Patrol Agent Luis “Louie” Dominguez, EOW: Sept. 23, 2021
  • U.S. Border Patrol Agent Alfredo Ibarra, EOW: Sept. 27, 2021
  • U.S. DEA Group Supervisor Michael G. Garbo, EOW: Oct. 4, 2021
  • Mohave County Sheriff’s Detention Officer Anthony Nicoletti, EOW: Oct. 11, 2021
  • La Paz Sheriff’s Sgt. Michael D. Rudd, EOW: Oct. 11, 2021
  • Maricopa County Sheriff’s Deputy Juan Miguel “Johnny” Ruiz, EOW: Oct. 11, 2021
  • U.S. Border Patrol Supervisory Agent Anibal Antonio Perez, EOW: Nov. 5, 2021
  • Maricopa County Sheriff’s Lieut. Chad Brackman, EOW: Nov. 10, 2021
  • U.S. Border Patrol Supervisor Agent Martin Barrios, EOW: Nov. 29, 2021
  • Chandler Police Officer Jeremy Wilkins, EOW: Dec. 17, 2021

Each year, the names of officers who have perished while serving in the line of duty are engraved into the Memorial and honored during a service where family, friends, and colleagues of fallen officers gather to pay their respects. Among the 2021 deaths are several caused by COVID-19, according to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. 

A total of 388 names are engraved into one of eight double-sided granite panels surrounding the iconic bronze statue, with the earliest known line of duty death in Arizona being Yuma County Sheriff Cornelius “Corney” Sage, who was attacked and killed in May 1865 while traveling to Prescott on county business.

Members of the Arizona Peace Officers Memorial board are John Stevens for Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (chairman); Deston Coleman for Col. Heston Silbert of Arizona Department of Public Safety; Director David Shinn of Arizona Department of Corrections; Andrew T. LeFevre for the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission; John Stair of the Arizona Probation Officer Association (vice-chairman); Jaime Escobedo, Peace Officer Memorial Board Historian; Graham County Sheriff P.J. Allred; Captain Lynn Ideus for the Arizona Fraternal Order of Police; Jeffrey Hawkins for Arizona State Troopers Association; Prescott Police Chief Amy Bonney; Ron Young (Business Community representative); W. Steven Martin (Business Community representative); Rick Davis, Survivor Member; and Jan Blaser-Upchurch, Survivor.

Arizona’s Management Philosophy For State Agencies Continues To Pay Dividends

Arizona’s Management Philosophy For State Agencies Continues To Pay Dividends

By Terri Jo Neff |

Shortly after being sworn into office more than seven years ago, Gov. Doug Ducey made it clear to the heads of every state agency that he wanted the needs of residents to be better served and to make Arizona an attractive location for businesses.

The result was the rollout of the Arizona Management System (AMS), a results-driven philosophy which empowers state employees to identify ways to make the government work more efficiently while eliminating waste, all with an emphasis on enhancing customer service. And AMS is paying dividends, according to several agency directors who recently provided updates to Ducey.  

Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services

Building upon Arizona’s commitment to veterans, the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services embraced AMS to identify and work to solve the root causes of veteran suicides. Stakeholders -including the Department, the Governor’s Office, and the Arizona Coalition for Military Families- came together with a different approach to veteran suicide prevention.

The result, according to Col. Wanda Wright, is Arizona’s Be Connected program, which was recognized by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs with the 2021 Abraham Lincoln Pillars of Excellence Award.  

Arizona Department of Water Resources

Drought response and preparedness plays a vital role in guiding Arizona Department of Water Resources, but there was a time that the state’s water professionals had limited involvement in federal strategic planning related to drought.

Under AMS, ADWR expanded its network of experts in academia, the private sector, and industry groups to lead statewide drought planning efforts. One outcome, according to ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke, is Arizona’s active participation in the Intermountain West Drought Early Warning System.

Arizona Department of Transportation

Prior to integrating the AMS philosophy in Arizona Department of Transportation projects, stakeholders often complained that deadlines were of higher concern than local impacts. But with AMS in place, Director John S. Halikowski says ADOT employees are applying several innovative approaches to keep vehicles -and commerce- moving during construction projects to minimize potentially disruptive restrictions and closures.

Arizona Department of Environmental Quality

Misael Cabrera was named director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality shortly after Ducey announced the AMS initiative in 2015. In response, ADEQ has developed the “My Community” dashboard to provide environmental and demographic map data on its website. The timely information is accessible via an easy-to-use, online tool the public can use to understand what ADEQ is doing to address environmental issues in various communities.

Arizona Department of Housing

Another state agency which embraced the AMS philosophy early on is the Arizona Department of Housing. It saw several increases in efficiency by implementing a more visual method of keeping staff updated on deadlines and department goals. And that has continued since Director Tom Simplot took the helm in 2021, with an emphasis on faster inspections and decision-making. More information on how AMS is improving state agencies is available here.

New Law Could Reduce Costs For Some Public Safety Employers

New Law Could Reduce Costs For Some Public Safety Employers

By Terri Jo Neff |

While the City of Bisbee is hoping $24 million in municipal bonds will resolve fiscal problems associated with its unfunded liability to the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS), the governor recently signed legislation addressing the opposite problem – several public safety employers who have overly funded accounts or accounts with no future liabilities.

Gov. Doug Ducey signed Senate Bill 1085 earlier this month to provide government employers of public safety workers more options in calculating contribution rates paid to PSPRS. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. David Livingston (R-Peoria), also addressed the fiscal burden on public safety employers when even when the group is properly funded or has an excess of employee contributions. 

Before the governor signed the bill, certain members of PSPRS hired after July 20, 2011 and before July 1, 2017 generally pay an employee contribution rate of 11.65 percent. However, employee contributions above 7.65 percent are not directly accounted for in the valuation process, so they do not serve to reduce an employer’s contribution rate.

SB 1085 modifies how the “excess” of employee contributions are treated once an employer reaches 100 percent funded status. As a result, any employee contribution above 7.65 percent can be factored into the valuation process in an effort to reduce any required employer contribution.

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee has identified 12 local government PSPRS employer groups which appear to meet the 100 percent funding threshold: Apache County Detention, Coconino County Deputies, Flagstaff Police, Gila County Dispatchers, Graham County Dispatchers, Groom Creek Fire, Hayden Police, Pima Police, Pinal County Dispatchers, Tombstone Marshals. Wickenburg Dispatchers, and Winslow Fire.

Another key feature of SB105 is a provision which removes language in state law dating back to FY 2007 that required the employer contribution rate to not be less than 8 percent of employee compensation (5 percent for some employers) regardless of funding status. In some circumstances, the PSPRS Board of Trustees would have authority to suspend additional employer contributions subject to certain fiduciary restrictions. 

SB1085 also provides a procedure for an employer to request the PSPRS board transfer excess assets of an employer’s account which has no liabilities or beneficiaries to another PSPRS group under the same employer. The JLBC reports this would currently impact only three employer groups: Greenlee County Attorney Investigators, La Paz County Attorney Investigators, and Tonopah Valley Fire District.

PSPRS was established in 1968 to provide a uniform statewide retirement program for public safety personnel. It is a defined benefit pension plan organized into local boards for different employing agencies.

However, overly optimistic investment projections, a rash of baby boomer retirements, and a kick-the-can attitude by many city and town councils the last two decades has left several PSPRS employer groups underwater and accruing interest.

Last year Ducey signed legislation which appropriated $500 million of the state’s budget surplus to the underfunded Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) account with PSPRS. Despite the move, the DPS group’s unfunded PSPRS liability remains at nearly $431 million, and grows at about 7.3 percent annually. 

Another $502 million in supplemental payments -to the DPS and the Arizona Game & Fish Department PSPRS group accounts- has been proposed this year by the governor’s office as budget discussions continue with the Legislature.  Another Livingston-sponsored bill SB1087, would have also appropriated  $550 million toward underfunded pension liabilities in the Corrections Officer Retirement Plan (CORP) which is administered by PSPRS.

SB1087 cleared the Senate but not the House. As a result, any appropriations for state pension liabilities will likely be addressed in budget bills in the next few weeks.

The State may be flush with cash, but the same cannot be said for communities like Bisbee which has a $24 million PSPRS unfunded liability.  Voters there will be asked in November to approve a city council plan to continue a one-cent sales tax, half of which will be used toward payments on a recently adopted resolution for the issuance of municipal bonds to pay off the city’s entire underfunded PSPRS liability.

Doing so, city officials announced earlier this month, will result in a bond interest debt that is less than the amount accruing each month from interest on its unpaid $24 million PSPRS debt.

Lawsuit Costs Add Up As DCS Works To Implement Audit Changes

Lawsuit Costs Add Up As DCS Works To Implement Audit Changes

By Terri Jo Neff |

The State of Arizona has paid roughly $6 million in the last three years to private law firms to defend the Arizona Department of Child Safety against multiple allegations of staff malfeasance and misfeasance leading to the neglect, even death, of children placed into the state’s foster care system.

In the meantime, concerns brought forth by the Arizona Auditor General’s Office in 2019 about foster home recruitment, licensure, use, and retention have not been fully implemented by DCS, and there won’t be another status report to the Arizona Legislature until later this year, according to public records.

A nearly 60 page special report to Gov. Doug Ducey and lawmakers in September 2019 outlined six recommendations for improvements within DCS for Arizona’s foster care system. One key area of concern was foster parents who reported feeling excluded from decisions about the children in their care as well as difficulty accessing needed support and pressure to accept foster placements.  

There were also several instances in which foster parents complained of being provided “incomplete or inadequate” information about the children placed in their care, something auditors confirmed when reviewing placement packets as part of the audit. 

In May 2020, the Auditor General’s Office provided lawmakers with an initial follow-up, at which time it was revealed DCS was still in the process of implementing five of the six recommendations. Steps to implement the sixth recommendation had not been started, according to the audit report, despite the fact it addressed one of the main complaints – the lack of customer service to improve foster parent recruitment and ensure retention.

Instead, DCS was concentrating on developing and launching of Guardian, its much needed new agency-wide database. But when Guardian went live in February 2021,  state employees closed off some features of the system to other state agencies, including the State Foster Care Review board and the Arizona Ombudsman’s Office.

In addition, there were numerous complaints from foster parents, adoptive parents, and foster children transitioning out of foster care about late payments for several weeks after Guardian went live.

A November 2021 “second follow-up” report by the Arizona Auditor General at the 24-month period did not get into those problems.  Instead, the report to the chairs of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee remained focused on the six recommendations from 2019, of which DCS had fully implemented only 50 percent.

And there was still had no start date in sight for implementing an improved customer service model, according to that report.  

Despite the lack of performance by DCS, there will not be another audit report to the Legislature on the foster home concerns until this fall, according to August General Lindsay Perry’s office. That will mark three years after the initial special report.

The six recommendations and findings as noted in the November 2021 report were:

1. DCS should develop and implement a customer service model to improve foster parent recruitment and retention, and engage in continuous quality improvement via feedback to ensure the model’s successful implementation.

But according to the Perry’s staff, DCS reported “it has yet to begin implementing a customer service model because of competing priorities within the Department, such as implementing its new case management system (Guardian). The Department has not identified a start date for implementing this recommendation.”

2. DCS should, as required by Arizona law, provide foster parents “with complete, updated written placement packet information upon placement of children with foster parents.”

The placement packets began being issued by DCS in September 2021 through an online portal for new and renewed placements. However, obtaining feedback on whether the packets were worthwhile was to be included as part of the improved customer service outlined in Recommendation 1. As a result, the Auditor General cannot make any assessments until the 3-year report on whether the placement packets have resolved concerns expressed by foster parents.

3. The Auditor General also recommended DCS undertake an effort to find out why a foster parent closes his or her license. The pre-Guardian database only allows one reason to be entered, even though foster parents fill out a form which allows for marking multiple reasons. According to DCS, this problem will be resolved at some point via Guardian.  

4. Already implemented is the Auditor General’s recommendation that DCS develop and implement procedures to ensure contractors and staff adequately handle intake in English and Spanish, including answering or returning phone calls in a timely manner and meeting Department expectations for call quality.

5. Also implemented was the recommendation that DCS implement procedures to ensure contractors maintain websites with information about how to become a foster parent in Spanish.

6. DCS also improved its monitoring of foster home recruitment and support contracts to ensure core contract requirements are being met, such as  providing access to respite care and other requirements DCS deems critical to the contracts’ success.

Public Transit Reports Confirm Significantly Low Ridership In Post-Pandemic Arizona

Public Transit Reports Confirm Significantly Low Ridership In Post-Pandemic Arizona

By Terri Jo Neff |

Valley Metro Transit will formally begin streetcar service in Tempe later this month as part of a $190 million public transportation project which began construction in 2018 and has been funded by federal grants, regional funding, and local public-private partnerships.

Operation of the streetcar, which is smaller than the light rail vehicles typically seen in the metro area, will be paid by the City of Tempe. The three-mile route is slated to service the ASU- Tempe campus, downtown Tempe, Gammage Auditorium, Sun Devil Stadium, and Tempe Beach Park starting May 20.

But while Tempe is expanding its public transit options, questions are being raised in other parts of the Phoenix metropolitan area where some bus routes frequently attract less than a handful of riders, day after day.  Valley Metro’s own reports confirm significantly low ridership on some route, drawing attention to the cost and associated problems in providing regional public transit.  

Transit officials in the Valley attribute some of the ridership changes seen in late 2021 and early 2022 to the effects of service reductions and route changes due to COVID-19. For the year ending June 30, 2019 there were more than 49 million pre-pandemic Valley Metro bus riders, which dropped to 39.7 million the next fiscal year which included the first six months of COVID-19 cases.

However, the unreliability of public transit and mask mandates forced many residents to find other options and they have been slow to return. For the Fiscal Year ending June 30, 2021 there were less than 21 millions Valley Metro bus riders, according to public records. Valley Metro light-rail ridership also dropped around 50 percent from FY 2020 to FY 2021.

While a lack of ridership is a growing concern in the Phoenix metro area, it is the change in rider demographics that is currently creating problems for Tucson’s Sun Tran bus service, according to the union representing the drivers.

Teamsters Local Union 104 reports there were only 14 physical assaults on its drivers in 2018. That jumped to 47 in 2021, while there have already been 17 as the end of April, putting Sun Tran on track for more than 50 attacks this year.

But those numbers, union officials say, do not include verbal threats and abuse directed toward drivers, who are also called coach operators. And then there is the escalation in the frequency and cost of property damage to the buses, as well as public health issues.

The union insists the problem is directly tied to the City’s decision to waive all bus fees during the pandemic in an effort to aid workers and students who relied on public transit. The waiver, paid for by $43 million in federal pandemic funding, is set to end this summer, and union officials say it cannot come soon enough.

Teamsters 104 contends Tucson’s city buses have become “a mobile refuge from the elements frequented by drug users, the mentally ill and violent offenders” due in part to the fee waiver. The usual fare-paying rider is no longer using Sun Tran to get to work, school, or medical appointments, having been replaced by non-paying passengers who instead “ride for hours on end, sleep on the buses, abuse drugs, relieve themselves and assault drivers,” the union says.

Another consequence of the free fair-induced change in ridership, the union says, is that those for whom the public transit was designed are now choosing alternative methods of transportation to avoid risks to their health and safety, especially elderly riders and those who have children. The situation, Teamsters 104 claims, has resulted in a workplace environment that has deteriorated for Sun Tran drivers while “lawlessness abounds and violence in commonplace.”

Meanwhile, the City of Sierra Vista discontinued three intracity fixed routes of its Vista Transit on Monday. In their place, city officials approved a new limited bus route with stops at the county’s major hospital as well as at state and county offices located with the city.

The change, which was noted as temporary but with no end date, means there will no longer be fixed route bus service available to and from Fort Huachuca. And while the city’s announcement puts the blame on “staffing shortages,” local residents as well as city officials have commented about the dearth of riders in post-pandemic months.

Vista Transit was one of the first in the state to change over to smaller, less expensive buses several years ago. And with budget season in full force, it is likely city bus service will look much different when the suspension is lifted, according to officials.

At the same time Sierra Vista is making serious cuts to its public transit options, the Town of Gilbert is considering whether to spend nearly $290,000 to study bringing commuter rail service to its town. The proposal has received pushback from local taxpayers as well organizations like the Arizona Free Enterprise Club concerning efforts by some town officials to keep the matter a secret.

READ MORE ABOUT GILBERT HERE