Steller: Miller must build relationships to be effective

2014-02-21T00:00:00Z Steller: Miller must build relationships to be effectiveTim Steller Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller labeled it a political “reprisal.”

The four other supervisors decided Tuesday to take away $872,000 that had been slated for road-repair projects in her northwest-side district and spend it on upgrading Colossal Cave Road in Vail.

The incident gave Miller’s supporters more fodder for alleging that she is being punished for raising questions about Pima County government. She had put an item on Tuesday’s agenda exploring possible cuts in spending to help pay for the county’s $270 million road-repair bill.

“Now we’re going to be penalized because we criticized the management of the road money?” Miller said incredulously during the meeting Tuesday after fellow Supervisor Richard Elias proposed the change.

No question the decision looked like a smackdown of Miller by the rest of the board. But her constituents in District 1 should realize the decision also shows she has simply not learned yet to be an effective representative.

By failing to appreciate her fellow supervisors’ perspectives, she cost her district nearly a precious million in road fixes. This is especially ironic because Miller has made fixing Pima County’s roads her signature issue, proposing a variety of sources for money to pay for road repairs.

It all started during the budget process for this fiscal year, when the supervisors voted to add $5 million in general-fund spending on repaving roads. Miller and fellow Republican Ray Carroll voted no.

“The person who whines and complains most about roads voted against it,” Supervisor Ramon Valadez emphasized when I spoke with him Wednesday. That would be Miller.

The three Democrats passed the spending and told county staff to come up with a list of high-traffic streets that were in the worst condition, Supervisors Chair Sharon Bronson said. They came up with lists that amounted to about $1 million in repairs for each of the five supervisors’ districts.

But Miller wasn’t satisfied with the priority projects for her district because the streets were in adequate condition and would only get surface-level treatment. She asked her staff to find alternatives.

“We met and cooperatively worked with Department of Transportation staff,” Miller said at the board meeting.

The list Miller’s staff and the transportation employees came up with was primarily for repairs to some of the district’s lesser roads, not main arteries. County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry approved the new list in November, she said.

Yet to Carroll, who is Miller’s principal rival on the board despite sharing the same party label, going to staff itself was a violation of protocols.

“I have accepted staff’s recommendations over the years,” Carroll said during the meeting Tuesday. “I have not interfered with staff’s recommendations over the years. I have done so for the very reason we’re seeing today.”

What he was seeing was a backlash led by Elias against Miller’s changes to the prioritized list. He and Valadez noted that, in their districts, most people live in incorporated areas, so they get a disproportionately small amount of county road spending, whereas Miller’s district gets the bulk of the spending.

“None of this has anything to do with retribution. It’s about tax equity,” Elias said Tuesday.

Valadez elaborated when I spoke with him:

“If you make the argument that only major thoroughfares will be taken care of, you can sell it” to constituents, he said. “It may not be located in our district, but it’s going to be major thoroughfares that we all use. She changed that.”

While Miller got the nod from Huckelberry, what she didn’t realize is that he wasn’t the only supporter she needed — she had forgotten the other supervisors.

In fact, other supervisors tell me Miller doesn’t talk to them outside of meetings, while Miller told me they won’t speak to her. Whoever is at fault, that’s unacceptable.

Her failure to foresee their objections could well be a result of her inexperience on the board. That’s fine, but she ought to take the time to learn.

While Miller has put in good effort seeking possible spending cuts to pay for road repairs, that time might be as effectively spent on getting to know her fellow supervisors and their perspectives.

“Regardless of where you start from, you’ve got to talk and build relationships to get anything accomplished,” Bronson said. “That’s going to be her challenge moving forward.”

It’s a challenge that Miller’s District 1 constituents ought to also make, if they want to have effective representation over the next three years.

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

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