Steller: Horne's running out of defenses for unethical behavior

2014-05-14T00:00:00Z Steller: Horne's running out of defenses for unethical behaviorTim Steller Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Attorney General Tom Horne sure has a lot of employees destined for disgruntlement.

Remember Don Dybus?

Back in February 2012, Dybus was an attorney working in the attorney general’s Tucson office, and filed a complaint saying that Horne had illegally coordinated the donation of $115,000 to an outside group that would use the money to benefit Horne’s campaign. Horne’s office said Dybus, who had worked for the campaign, was going to be fired and made the allegation to help keep his job.

How about Margaret “Meg” Hinchey?

She was a criminal investigator — a sworn police officer — working for the AG’s Phoenix office in 2011 when she turned over allegations of the same campaign finance violations to the FBI. Horne ended up calling her a “partisan Democrat” who “resented working for a Republican.”

Now there’s Sarah Beattie.

She’s a young staffer who alleged in an affidavit and complaint filed this week that Horne has turned his executive office into his campaign headquarters, using public employees, including her, as campaign staffers in his re-election bid. Beattie “has a habit of turning on employers when she leaves” and is being “exploited” by a “political hack” attorney, Horne’s office said.

It seems our attorney general has a habit of attracting evil-minded employees intent on destroying him politically. Either that or Horne is simply an attorney general who is willing to bend the rules and break the law to advance himself politically.

By now, with all the allegations made against Horne and investigations launched during his eventful tenure as attorney general, the evidence is weighing heavily against the idea that he’s just unlucky with employees.

Consider the interview Susan Schmultz, a human-resources administrator with the Attorney General’s Office, did with the FBI agents investigating Horne in June 2012. She recalled for them that in the days before Horne took office in 2011, she received a list of 38 people to whom Horne had promised jobs, a list that was supplemented with more names later.

“And I essentially have to find places for everybody,” Schmultz said, noting the instructions she received from a Horne adviser. “What she did is she gave me the list of — here’s the salary they’re gonna make. Let’s find a position. Which is not normally how it works.

“And so the stress was, how do we find positions for these people? I was being asked to place people in positions ... where I absolutely knew that they did not have the K.S.A. (knowledge, skills and abilities) to that position.”

Reading Beattie’s new affidavit in isolation is damning. But when you read it in the light of this interview and the other allegations against Horne for the abuse of his position or breaking of campaign laws, the impression left is devastating: of an attorney general who has been able to get away with acting unethically.

“Tom Horne routinely walked around and pulled members of the Executive staff into meetings regarding the Brnovich and Rotellini campaigns,” Beattie said in the affidavit, referring to Republican primary challenger Mark Brnovich and Democratic candidate Felecia Rotellini. “These meetings were done during regular office hours and not on our lunch hours or breaks.

“Additionally, there were Calendar meetings which were intended to review and work on the Attorney General’s official business. But these meetings were merged with discussion and review of Tom Horne’s reelection campaign events.”

Beattie says she herself was tasked with helping with campaign fundraisers, designing campaign fliers, and drafting campaign talking points, among other nonstate business. All while being paid by taxpayers.

Horne denied this was really happening in a prepared statement: “All of our employees are expected to work 8 hour days, and do, as is reflected in their weekly time sheets. In fact, many of them work well over a 40 hour work week. Some volunteer to do campaign work on their own time, as is their first amendment right. All significant campaign work, including meetings, is done at an off-site location, at lunch time, or after work.

“Several people will testify that at an off-site meeting, Ms. Beattie had an emotional crying fit over the fact that her hours were being watched,” Horne went on. “Her bitterness apparently stems from the fact that she was expected to work eight hours on legitimate state business.”

It would be easier to discredit her if she hadn’t attached numerous emails and other documents to the complaint she filed Monday. For example, there’s Horne’s email to several AG’s office staffers, using their personal email accounts, asking them to go over four major critiques of Felecia Rotellini, the only Democrat in the race for attorney general.

It would be easier to dismiss her claims if Horne’s campaign manager, Margaret Dugan, and deputy campaign manager, Vanessa Deatherage, weren’t also paid employees of the Attorney General’s Office.

And it would be easier to believe Horne if he hadn’t made claims about disgruntled employees before.

But at this stage, common sense points in another direction, toward the conclusion that Horne is an unethical politician who abuses his position of public trust.

Contact columnist Tim Steller at tsteller@azstarnet.com or 807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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