Huckelberry to Miller: Put up or shut up on extortion

2013-10-25T00:00:00Z Huckelberry to Miller: Put up or shut up on extortionBy Darren DaRonco Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry has challenged Supervisor Ally Miller to give prosecutors evidence that county employees are breaking the law, as she says, or shut up.

For weeks, Miller has alleged on the radio and through Facebook posts that Pima County extorts developers by forcing them to use county-approved, high-priced consultants as a condition for getting land-use and building plans approved.

Miller said numerous developers and real estate interests have approached her recently with complaints of county misdeeds, saying the groundswell of complaints is becoming too big to ignore.

“If I heard it once, twice or maybe even 10 times I wouldn’t think much of it,” Miller posted on her Facebook account Oct. 9. “But folks, I am hearing this from everyone and the roar is getting louder.”

“These are criminal allegations,” Huckelberry said in a memo fired off to Miller dated Oct. 22, urging her to turn over whatever extortion evidence she has to the Pima County Attorney’s Office for review — if any such evidence exists.

“The county attorney is a separately elected official in Pima County and is not subject to the authority of either the county administrator or the Board of Supervisors,” Huckelberry wrote. “My past experience … is that the office exercises excellent, independent prosecutorial discretion, and I am sure they would do so in the future.”

Huckelberry called Miller’s allegations “unfounded and based on bad information” that likely came from “disgruntled developers” who loathe the “enforcement of county codes.”

And he suggested Miller lacks understanding of the County Code or state law.

Miller said she hadn’t read Huckelberry’s memo because she was out of town the past week.

She said while she hadn’t amassed enough evidence to take it to the county prosecutor, the issue shouldn’t be dismissed.

“The whole point of this was, why are we hearing so much of this?” Miller said. “If it was 10 people in the past two years, I wouldn’t think about it. But I’m hearing it all the time. So I think it should be investigated. And when I respond to Mr. Huckelberry, I’ll ask him if there has been an investigation to ensure this isn’t happening.”

Miller said she wouldn’t reveal specific names of those who have come forward with complaints because they feel they could be targets of retribution and risk losing future county business.

“I will not name names because they live in fear, but this is what they tell me,” Miller said. “And when I hear things like that I think there should be an investigation.”

She said some of those developers have told her they may make their allegations public.

Rules in place

Huckelberry said the county staff is bound by numerous ordinances and guidelines to ensure a fair and open process, he said, and anyone caught stepping outside those boundaries is dealt with swiftly.

“We don’t tolerate that activity,” Huckelberry said. “Any employees who participate in it are subject to immediate termination.”

Huckelberry said the county doesn’t get involved in any developer’s decision to hire or not to hire a consultant when bidding on a county contract.

Other supervisors weren’t aware of any mandatory-consultant lists and said Miller needs to supply proof of her claims.

“If she has a list, she needs to bring it forward and show us,” said supervisors Chairman Ramon Valadez.

Supervisor Ray Carroll said he hasn’t heard complaints since Miller took her seat on the board, but is willing to hear her out.

“I’ve yet to hear any facts to back up her allegations,” Carroll said. “You have to be able to back up claims with evidence. I’m open to listening to her facts, if there are any.”

Miller said she won’t be intimidated and will continue to seek answers no matter how unpopular it makes her with some.

She said the matter needs to be investigated to ensure the practice isn’t happening or, if it is, to put an end to it.

“I hope it’s proven wrong. I’m not looking for a gotcha moment,” Miller said. “That isn’t my goal. But I hear it too many times” to just ignore it.

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or ddaronco@azstarnet.com. Follow on Twitter @DarrenDaRonco

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

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