Pima County tax dollars bought Facebook likes, a $15,000 office renovation and a staff meeting at the Ritz

2014-01-26T00:00:00Z 2014-01-28T16:28:05Z Pima County tax dollars bought Facebook likes, a $15,000 office renovation and a staff meeting at the RitzBy Joe Ferguson Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Correction: The original version of this story said Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller spent $1,500 on an office chair. The $1,500 item was a table.

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Your tax dollars paid for two county supervisors to buy Facebook “likes,” for one supervisor to finance a $15,000 office renovation and for a district staff meeting at the Ritz-Carlton.

Those expenses were among tens of thousands of dollars supervisors spent last year on travel, lunches, digital cameras and self-promotion.

The Arizona Daily Star reviewed 340 pages of receipts after filing a public-records request for records for 2013 supervisor spending that generated details on everything from a 97-cent get-well card for a county official to a trip to Washington, D.C., that cost more than $3,800.

Each Pima County supervisor has the power to spend a $400,000-a-year operating budget at his or her discretion, requiring almost no outside approval. Other county elected officials, as well as thousands of county employees, have an ethics policy governing meals and gifts.

Among the supervisors’ 2013 expenses:

Ally Miller, who represents the northwest side in District 1, paid GoDaddy $1,170 to design her office website — other supervisors use the county website. She regularly spends more than $100 on lunches for her staff and took out 10 monthly subscriptions to the Arizona Daily Independent, a conservative blog.

Richard Elías, who represents the west side of Tucson in District 5, spent slightly more than $350 on Facebook ads designed to get more people to “like” him as a supervisor.

Ramón Valadez, who represents central Tucson and the south side in District 2, spent $3,800 as part of a trip to promote Tucson to U.S. government and elected officials in the nation’s capital.

Ray Carroll, who represents District 4 in a sprawling east-side district that stretches from the Catalinas to Green Valley, spent about $7,000 for he and staffers to take four trips for the National Association of Counties, on which he serves as a national board member.

Sharon Bronson, whose west-side District 3 includes vast rural portions of the county, didn’t expense much more than office supplies and a monthly trip for a staffer to visit constituents in Ajo.

ALLY MILLER

Miller, who has been vocal in her criticism of county spending practices, spent thousands of dollars in what county documents describe as outreach to residents.

In addition to paying GoDaddy to build, design and host her website, AllyMillerDistrict1.com, her office spent $440 on specialized e-mail marketing software to send out updates to her constituents. That software was used a week ago to send out a newsletter attacking fellow Republican Supervisor Ray Carroll.

County records show she also spent taxpayer money to print up signs promoting her weekly segment on a talk radio show.

Miller has cut ties with some media organizations, canceling her office subscription to Inside Tucson Business and refusing to talk to some media organizations. She did, however, expense 10 subscriptions to the Arizona Daily Independent, a conservative blog.

The Oro Valley Republican largely avoided costly trips of out town in her first year in office, although there is a receipt for a two-day stay in a Hilton Hotel in Phoenix that cost taxpayers $579.58.

Staff meetings in District 1, however, regularly cost more than $100 for meals, records show. A September breakfast meeting at the Ritz-Carlton, where staff posed for photos, cost $149. She picked up a $128 tab at Agustin Brasserie in May and, a week later, $144 at Baggins.

She also spent more than $300 for meals for her budget advisory team in the weeks preceding a town hall-type event on the county budget.

The Republican also spent more than $15,000 outfitting her office after being elected in November 2012. Records show she bought new furniture — including a $1,550 table — for her office on the 11th floor of the Pima County Administration Building.

Miller, who has chided her peers for not adequately promoting transparency, refused several requests to discuss her spending.

RICHARD ELIAS

Elías spent slightly more than $350 on Facebook ads in 2013, while Miller spent $50 during the last two weeks of December.

The three-term Democrat defended the practice, noting the ads helped him reach social-media-savvy people living in his district.

Elias also paid for several meals, but said the sandwiches and pizza were for constituents, not his staff. He said he occasionally catered small events to feed some of his poorest constituents.

A meeting of the juvenile justice task force, he said, was a good example.

“The kids were hungry,” he said.

Another example was sandwiches from Safeway after a neighborhood clean-up event in Midvale Park.

Both Miller and Elías bought entry-level Canon single-lens reflex cameras last year to take photographs of events.

Elías, who said a staffer broke the last office camera after it was accidentally dropped, also expensed a “DSLR for Dummies” book from Amazon.

RAY CARROLL

Carroll, who is a board member of the National Association of Counties, expensed several trips for himself and his staff, records indicate.

Trips to Washington D.C., Dallas, Las Vegas and Flagstaff cost taxpayers roughly $7,000 in 2013.

Carroll said he has been active in the organization for several years and his seat on the national board gives Pima County a voice in national issues.

“I think if you don’t have a seat at the table, you are on the menu,” Carroll said.

Ramon VALADEZ

Valadez had few reimbursable expenses outside of office supplies.

The exception was an “executive mission” to Washington D.C. with officials from Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities, which cost more than $3,100.

On the trip, Valadez and other local officials met with members of Congress and other government officials to discuss the future of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, job growth for aerospace and defense employers and transportation-related infrastructure.

Sharon Bronson

Bronson also used county credit cards mostly on office supplies.

Bronson, whose district includes Ajo, expensed overnight trips to the small rural town, paying for a hotel room and meals when a staffer visits the area once a month.

She said she is cautious when using money from her office budget, noting she uses campaign funds for anything that might appear to be self-promotion or political.

County records show all five districts returned money to the county in the last fiscal cycle, which ended in June 2013, spending less than they were budgeted.

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

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