South Tucson Police Chief Michael Ford was fired Tuesday, a day after Mayor Ildefonso Green publicly blamed him for being a source in a series of negative news articles.
Green lashed out at the media during the City Council’s meeting Monday night, complaining recent articles focused too heavily on proposed cuts to police and fire staffing and not on other budget proposals.
He accused Ford, who has been chief since December 2014, and other staffers of leaking information after the city’s budget problems became widely known.
“All of sudden we had individuals running to the media,” Green said at the meeting. “They were saying to the media that we are going to lose our Fire Department, we are going to lose our Police Department.”
Green said eliminating the departments was never seriously considered.
Ford, who had been shaking his head “no” as Green was talking during the council meeting, was called on by the mayor to give his thoughts. Ford said the information in news stories came from public discussions, not leaks.
“That is not true. The only information we had to communicate (to the public) came at these meetings, and that is the same information that went out to the media,” Ford said.
The two argued back and forth for several minutes before Ford left the meeting room.
Green instructed staff that he wanted to talk to Ford, labeling his comments as “insubordination.”
The discussion was tabled during Monday’s meeting but resumed after the meeting ended.
Council members Oscar Patino and Anita Romero argued with Green for about 10 minutes from the floor of the council chambers about the issue. Councilman Robert Larribas listened nearby.
City Attorney Bobby Yu was present but did not speak or attempt to end the conversation.
With four members present discussing city business outside of a formal meeting, this is a violation of the state’s Open Meeting Law, said Dan Barr, attorney for the First Amendment Coalition.
On Tuesday morning, City Manager Sixto Molina told Ford he was being fired for poor work performance, Ford said.
Molina confirmed Ford had been fired, but said he could not discuss the reasons why.
Lt. Kevin Shonk will temporarily serve as the acting police chief, Molina said.
About two weeks ago, Molina announced that the city’s projected $500,000 budget crisis had been fixed.
The solution mostly came from a combination of cuts in staffing, particularly in the fire and police departments, and other measures.
During Monday’s meeting, Molina said without a significant influx of new revenues, the 1-square-mile town will be forced to declare bankruptcy and consider de-incorporation.