County Horrors

The county is dodging its duty to evaluate the building codes recently imposed on rural areas.

Cochise County's 3-phase rural building code isn't delivering what the Planning Department promised it would.   That's the only conclusion to be drawn from a Department report issued on Tuesday, August 14, 2007.

The 3-phase code was approved by the county Board Of Supervisors in December 2004.  Phase 1 imposes codes on the west part of the county (including the area around Sierra Vista), Phase 2 covers mid-county, and Phase 3 covers the county's east edge.  Phases 1, 2, and 3 were to begin on April 1, 2005, 2006, and 2007 respectively, but Phase 2 was delayed two months, and the Board later created some exceptions.

When the Board passed the 3-phase code, the Board required a "review and evaluation process before the implementation of Phases 2 and 3," to be conducted by "Supervisors, Planning & Zoning staff, County Attorney staff, experts in the field of building codes, builders and developers, and interested members of the public."

Then-Department head Vlahovich said "he would be more comfortable with nine months" to prepare for the evaluation.  Yet, on March 28, 2006, just three days before Phase 2 was to begin, Vlahovich told the Board that "he did not realize the motion required an evaluation prior to the implementation of the second phase."  The Board, without questioning Vlahovich about his self-contradiction, delayed Phase 2, accepted a quickie in-house Department report saying the plan was paying for itself, and put off a real evaluation for a year.

On June 6, 2006, the Board voted to have a real evaluation by July 6, 2007.  That date passed without an evaluation.  August 14, 2007, was the date finally set for the evaluation.  On that date, supervisor Newman objected to continuing the program without the required evaluation.  Supervisor Searle acknowledged Newman's point, but would not discuss its legal implications.  The Department then presented NOT the required evaluation, but merely another in-house report.  The Board wouldn't acknowledge that when employees investigate whether their own work and salaries are justified, the answer tends to be "Yes!"

In 2004, the Department promised that the plant would cost the taxpayers nothing, because user fees would cover all costs.  James Vlahovich (then Department head, now Deputy County Administrator) told the Board "the plan would pay for itself in about 3 years and only be subsidized by the General Fund for the start-up period."  The August 14, 2007, report, however, shows plan deficits of $216,000 for fiscal year 2004/5, $64,000 for 2005/6, and $252,000 for 2006/7.  That's a total of $532,000, and increasing fast, far away from paying for itself.  In 2006, the Department's quickie in-house report said the program was collecting enough fees to pay the cost of collection.  That doesn't match the deficits that the the August 2007 report revealed.

In 2004, Vlahovich also told the Board that the program "would be encouraging, rather than discouraging, alternative construction methods like straw bale construction and rammed earth construction."  The August 14 report said nothing about this.

In 2004, Vlahovich told the Board that "the purpose of building codes is to establish the minimum acceptable requirements necessary for protecting the public health, safety and welfare ...."  The August 14 report counted every "life or safety" item the program has found, without regard to seriousness.  Without data on whether the frequency of actual fires, deaths, etc. has dropped since the program began, the report is of no use in determining the program's effect, if any, on public safety.

At the same time, Department employee Ron Durgin (gone for a while after this, now maybe back again) told the Board that the program "will also have a positive impact on property insurance rates.  The Insurance Services Offices (ISO) has shown a direct relationship between building failures, the codes adopted and the resources directed toward implementation and enforcement.  Cochise County currently has the worst insurance rating given by the ISO."  Yet on August 14, Department head Judy Anderson said the Department hadn't begun to contact insurance companies about the program.  Will the Department ever begin testing its promises against reality?

Department head Anderson was given a draft of this article, but never responded.

* * * * *

Non-research And the Pod People!

A study with a preset agenda stops short of analyzing the data,
the guy who set the agenda misrepresents criticism of his work,
& Supervisor Call gears up to turn rural folks into Pod People.

In a report delivered to the county on May 6, a grad student (probably just carrying out her advisor's orders) collected bits of data about housing values, and drew a map of the bits, with lines around some of them.  This work was worthy of an "A" in any 4th grade in the country.  The map gave the impression that homes in house tracts tend to be more expensive than homes tend to be built by individuals. But no numbers were provided, there was no mathematical analysis of the correlation between a property's assessed value and its builder, the report did not look at other factors which might affect the relationship between assessment and builder, and the report did not consider that some items that increase assessed value also require county maintenance and run up county costs, so that higher assessments may well correlate with a net drain on county finances.

These comments are intended to prevent any use, by the county supervisors or the Planning Department, of the May 6 report. The report is worthless scientifically, so should be worthless for political purposes too.

Most of the May 6 meeting was spent on another item.  Other graduate students, told to prepare plans for clustered "green" housing, came up with "pods" of about ten houses, with shared walls, and front doors facing each other across central courts no more than 100' wide, and often much closer. Such improvements over college dorms might appeal to college students, but most residents of Cochise County may have different ideas, involving NOT having to listen to your neighbors' television sets, and NOT having your neighbors' children play near your front door.

Mark Apel, formerly with the Planning Department, talked about "green" features of the pods, though he also liked lots of roads, which conflicts with "green" development, though Mark did not address the conflict.

Supervisor Patrick Call was very receptive to clustering, and hoped that the county would give incentives for such developments.  His ideas would appeal to big real estate developers, but to few others.  Based on Call's comments near the end of the Board meeting two weeks later, on May 20, Call is planning a major push to turn the county "green" and impose the graduate students' vision on the county's people.  How naive of Call.

For more on this story, including details about misrepresentations by Apel, go to
    http://littlebigdog.net/MarkApelAndThePodPeople.htm


The county's "Envisioning" campaign:
A survey that wasted $10,000 and lots of work


On July 17, 2007, the Sierra Vista Herald printed an article about the "Envisioning" survey.  The article is online here:
    http://www.svherald.com/articles/2007/07/17/news/doc469c65a79ec24365258796.txt

The survey sample was very biased.  It would be a good profile of Cochise County only IF --
    -- IF we all had phones and lived on the grid;
    -- IF we had about 50,000 men and 80,000 women, instead of 65,000 of each;
    -- IF we had about 40,000 people under 50, instead of 80,000;
    -- IF we had about 40,000 people over 65, instead of 20,000;
    -- IF half of our people over 18 were retired; and
    -- IF about 7500 of our families rented their homes, instead of 15,000.

    The survey questioned 406 heads of household -- 1/3 of 1% of the people in the county.  In the report, Table I-2 says that it reports, for all 406 people, the city they live in or 'identify with.'  However, the percentages only add up to 83%.
    All interviews were conducted by phone; this excluded people who have no phone, or live off the grid -- a large part of the people who give the county its unique flavor.
    The survey's sample did not accurately reflect the county.  It included too few --
        -- men.  Cochise County is 50.4% men, but the sample was only 40%.
        -- young working people.  About 50% of the county is under 38 years, but 70% of the sample was 50 years or more, and 48% was retired.
        -- renters.  33% of county homes are rented, but only 16% in the sample.
    The unrepresentative sample makes a survey's results unreliable.
    Some of the results, if taken at face value despite the survey's defects, show that county government is far out of touch with the concerns of county residents.  For instance, survey Table 9 lists what kind of development the 406 people would prefer:

          Project              Priority
                           On a Scale Of 1-5
Healthcare facilities            4.2
Public water system              3.9
Schools                          3.8
Public sewage system             3.7
Parks & recreation               3.7
Roads                            3.7
Retail shops & banking           3.4
Community center                 3.3
Public transportation            3.3
Industry/Mfg. centers            2.9
Residential subdivisions         2.3

    Even though "residential subdivisions" are last on that list, county employees spend huge amounts of time promoting housing developments.
    And Table 10 said that 84% of people wanted a separate house.  Of people who specified lot size, only 11% wanted under 1 acre, while 36% wanted 1 or more acres.  Only 7% of people wanted to live in apartments, townhouses, or condos, and only 4% -- one in 12 people -- wanted any kind of planned housing development -- but catering to that 4% is what county government has been doing.

* * * * *

A few Open Meeting Law violations

On February 22, 2005, the Supervisors discussed Miracle Valley's providing lodging to Minutemen.  The minutes say the Board went "into executive session to obtain legal advice regarding the expected large gathering in the Palominas area for an estimated 30 days...."  However, the minutes list the attendees as all three supervisors, the Board clerk, the Board attorney, two members of the sheriff's department, and three Planning and Zoning employees.  Unless they were all essential to receiving the legal advice, their presence violated the OML, and the executive session was just an illegal way to keep the public from hearing what officials were planning.  For more, see http://littlebigdog.net/minutemen.htm


On April 26, 2005, the Supervisors adopted a rule that lets two supervisors prevent the third from discussing any issue they don't want him to.  That meeting violated the OML in three ways:  the agenda didn't comply with the OML; after an executive session, supervisor Searle quoted advice that a county attorney gave in the executive session; and Searle's leak revealed that the rule was discussed in executive session even though it wasn't on the agenda.  For a letter the Board about this, see http://littlebigdog.net/gagruleemail.htm


At the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting in January 2006, after a tie vote about imposing county building codes in rural areas, the chair told the public that "a tie is being forwarded to the Board of Supervisors ...."  Actually, under the bylaws, a tie vote meant that the item "dies at this level and is not [to] be forwarded to the Board."  The chair soon called a break, and all the public left.  When the meeting resumed, the chair picked the dead item off the floor and put it back on the agenda without any notice to the public.  Planning & Zoning Department head Judy Anderson noted the situation in a letter on January 25, 2006, but did nothing to get into compliance with the OML.  For more, see

http://littlebigdog.net/PNZJan112006.htm

At its October 2006 meeting, the P&Z Commission defeated the proposed Sierra Vista Subwatershed Overlay District.  Department head Judy Anderson made a new application, and put it on the Commission's November agenda with the same docket number.  However, in November, the Commission did not consider Anderson's new application; the Commission reconsidered the item that had been defeated in October -- which was not on the agenda.  Discussing an item not on the agenda violated the OML, so the vote passing the Sierra Vista Subwatershed Overlay District is null and void.  For more, see http://littlebigdog.net/PNZNovember2006.htm


On October 9, 2007, the Board Of Adjustment for District 3 held a meeting without proper notice.  That violated the Open Meeting Law.  On October 30, the BOA held a meeting to ratify the results of the October 9 meeting.  However, the notice for October 30 itself violated the OML by leaving out a detailed description of the prior meeting, as required by
Arizona Revised Statute 38-431.05(B)(3). For the long original post on this subject, with the correspondence on both sides, go to http://littlebigdog.net/BoardOfAdjustment3.htm .

On June 23, 2008, all three county supervisors met with a few insiders to yak about local business.  The county government website posted notice of a meeting, but no agenda.  That violated Arizona's Open Meeting Law.  Then the supervisors further broke the law by discussing public business with a few specially invited friends -- including Judy Gignac, who's a contributor to supervisor Call, and is also his campaign manager.  How nice that the supervisors could talk to these people without the public knowing about it beforehand.

Notice of a Work Session on 10 a.m. Monday, August 25, 2008, wasn't posted on the county website until midafternoon Saturday, August 23.  The notice wasn't posted by noon, but appeared about 4 p.m. on Saturday.
    That was about 6 hours too late, according to Arizona law.
    A particular statute in the OML, ARS 38-431.02, controls the notices of public meetings.  Subsection C of the statute says "meetings shall not be held without at least twenty-four hours' notice to the members of the public body and to the general public."
    Exceptions are allowed in actual emergencies, or if a meeting is recessed and resumed, or if a "technological problem or failure" either "prevents the posting of public notices on a city or town web site" or "prevents the usage of all or part of the web site."  But none of them applies.
    Under the law, when you must act within a certain time, "the time [is] computed by excluding the first day and including the last day, unless the last day is a holiday, and then it is also excluded" -- and every Sunday is a holiday (ARS 1-243.A & 1-301.A.1).
    So to give 24 hours' notice of a meeting at 10 a.m. Monday, you could give notice by 10 a.m. the Sunday before -- except that because Sunday is a holiday, you must act by 10 a.m. Saturday.
    At least that's what the statute appears to say.  If the county disagrees, explaining shouldn't take long, because CCIPA's campaign to get the county to follow the law has been going on for years.
    The county did disagree.  An email from the BOS clerk to me said some county attorney opined that posting notice on Saturday, for a Sunday meeting, was okay, because Sunday isn't a holiday
   
The anonymous staff attorney's posture is ridiculous, because it gives ridiculous results.  Yes, 4 p.m. Saturday is over 24 hours before 10 a.m. Monday, IF you count the holiday between Saturday and Monday -- every Sunday being a legal holiday in Arizona.  But if you count Sunday hours toward the 24-hour requirement, then the county can meet the 24 hour requirement even if it posts notices on Sunday itself.  The county could set a meeting for 4 p.m. Monday, and post notice as late as 3:59 p.m. Sunday, and that would be fine -- under our county's ridiculous interpretation.
    The county has already been posting notices of meetings as late as possible.  Typically, the agendas for BOS and P&Z meetings are finalized weeks in advance, but only posted on a Friday (for BOS Tuesday meetings) or a Monday (for P&Z Wednesday meetings).  The incumbent supervisors clearly want to keep citizens ignorant as long as possible.
    So now people can't even trust what's posted on the county website, even after county offices shut down on Friday.  To discover meetings set for Monday, people must check the county website all day Sunday!
    The fact that our county supervisors want to play this ridiculous game is proof that we can't trust them.  Trustworthy supervisors wouldn't work hard to keep us ignorant of what they're up t
    [Followup:  apparently notice of the meeting was posted by noon -- not necessarily by 10 a.m. -- on Saturday morning on the county BOS webpage by a link called "Public Notice and Current Agenda."  However, the link called "Calendar/Agendas/Minutes," in larger type, did NOT have notice of the meeting.  This kind of problem with the county website has been brought to the Supervisors' attention before.  After this latest mess, Supervisor Searle says
"It makes perfect sense that the two should be linked. I will ask staff to follow up on this change to the web page."  We'll see if the non-informative links are fixed, or if the county website continues to mislead people.]






* * * * *


The Department Goes Totally Wacko Near McNeal
[There's an update, posted June 7, 2008, after this article.]

Once a Cochise County couple kept a few animals on 40 acres on Waya Road.  Our couple stored water for the animals in a large tank, and stored animal feed in an old trailer, and an assortment of items -- call it junk -- in a couple more old trailers.  A lot of stuff was scattered around on the ground too, the way things tend to be on even a tiny spread.  On hot days, when tending the animals got pretty arduous, the couple took shelter from the sun in one of the trailers.  The couple didn't use any of the trailers as a residence, though.


Most people don't know where Waya Road is.  Here's how you get there.  Go to McNeal, an unincorporated burg on US 191 a little over 20 miles north of Mexico.  Davis Road, which crosses 191, defines the south edge of McNeal.  Go east on Davis Road until the pavement runs out, the go another mile or so.  You'll come to EE Ranch Road.  From Davis, you can turn south onto EE Ranch in two ways.  The "official" EE Ranch Road has a cattle guard in it, with bars so far apart that small car tires might fall between them, so unless you're driving a pickup with big tires, take the "unofficial" turnoff a few feet west of the cattle guard.  Take the home-made road to the right of the official road, too; it's a lot smoother.  About a mile and a half south, turn east onto Waya, which is more a trail than a road.  After almost a mile, turn right onto the path to the 40 acres we're talking about.

All the lots in the area are 40 acres or more, and only a few lots have ever sold.  If you don't have a friend there, you probably don't know the area exists.  The people who settle here want very much to live as they please.  They are 21st century pioneers of the desert.  They have electricity -- but from their own generators, windmills, or solar cells.  They have phones -- cell phones.  They have water -- but from their own wells, or hauled in.  Everybody works hard and lives pretty much the same way, and homes tend to be thousands of feet apart, so almost nobody complains about a neighbor's mess.

But one person had a problem with the couple's use of the land:  Joseph Conrad Green, who sometimes uses the name of "Jose Verde."  He lives on EE Ranch Road, a mile or so away from our couple as the crow flies.  On clear days, he can see the couple's trailers off in the distance.

On January 2, Green went to the county Planning Department and filed a complaint about our couple.  He listed "No permit to use R.V. trailer for dwelling," "No permitted septic system," "No primary residence," and "Being used for storage No primary residence."

The Planning Department is run by Judy Anderson, who every now and then reminds the public that the Department has a big backlog of work.  However, Green's complaint was handled without much delay, by the Department's standards.

On February 2, a Department employee inspected the property, and on February 11, a letter signed by Pat Hoefer, Planning Technician, listed two violations:  "Outdoor storage without principal permitted use," and "No permit for occupancy of RV'S."  The alleged septic system problems disappeared.

A second inspection took place on March 3, and a third on April 23.  On April 24, a letter signed by Chris Saylor, Zoning Inspector II, said that "a COMPLAINT has been filed with the Hearing Officer for a hearing on July 17, 2008."  However, Saylor didn't send our couple a copy of the complaint itself, nor say where or at what time the hearing would be held, nor say what the couple's rights would be at the hearing, nor if they would have to pay merely for having a hearing (the cost can be $150 or $300, depending on the kind of hearing).

Saylor ordered our couple to "Remove all outdoor storage in a legal manner or Apply for a permit to establish a principle [so spelled in the original] residence," and said that if they didn't obey his order, they would be liable for fines up to $750 a day (though he didn't say when the fines would start), and that if they DID do as he said it was their responsibility "to notify us immediately AND to request a re-inspection."

The Department's letters of February 2 and April 24 do not entirely reflect what the couple says happened when inspectors came out.  Here's what the couple wrote:
    "1st visit.  County vehicle pulled up to our 5th wheel.  He said that someone had complained that someone was living on the property. We stated that we are not living on the property and pointed out where we do live and we told him that ther RV was a self contained unit and the others were for storage.  He said that we couldn't stay there for more than 7 days at a hit.   We stated that we can stay here for 14 days consecutive. He said that he is not up on all the laws....  We have 3 RV's.  One bumper pull is storage only.  No bathroom, and no kitchen.  1 small 5th wheel is stored in property. 1 large 5th wheel is for our occasional use.
    "Visit #2.  County vehicle pulled up. He said that he was there regarding the last visit.  He said he was there about clean up of area.  I asked him about that particular item 'clean up'.  What clean up?  He asked me if I received the letter.  I said yes, I received a letter but there was nothing about clean up on it.  And the other inspector had not said anything about clean up.  Then Jack came out.  I told him about what the inspector had said.  Jack said same thing about 'what clean up?'.  [Reminder:  the first letter from the Department listed "Outdoor storage without principal permitted use" and "No permit for occupancy of RV'S."  Nothing there says that the outdoor storage is messy or must be cleaned up, only that permits must be obtained.  Continuing with visit #2:]
    "The inspector said 'let's look around to see what we can find'....  [Comment:  isn't that a fine example of petty tyranny?--snooping around to see what an inspector can find.  Heil!  Continuing with visit #2:]
    "He found the trash in the back of a the pick up truck.  Jack showedg him that the bags were taped and sealed and that the bags are not going anywhere.  I said that is where it is kept until disposed of.  He said that the wind could blow it away.  Jack said 'show me where it has'.  He couldn't.  The he stated that he was going to keep coming back every month until we take care of the problem.  At which time Jack asked him.  What Problem?  Then he took pictures of our dog kennels, (3 pens) horses in corrals, water trailer and left."

It was hard for the couple to know what to do.  Eventually, they decided not to risk the $750 a day fine, and they moved all outdoor storage off the lot beginning on Friday, May 23.  Only the animals are left on the property in their pens; the Department didn't complain about them.

The Department spent a lot of money and time on this.  If Department employees drove Department trucks from Bisbee to Waya Road, that's three 70-mile round trips on some pretty rough terrain.  Add to that the time that Department employees spent looking around to see what they could find, and all the papers to be filled out back in the air-conditioned county offices -- all told, this may have taken 12 hours of time plus 12 to 20 gallons of gas.  All this, while the county is having a budget crisis and the Planning Department keeps saying it has a backlog of work.

What did the Department accomplish?

The harm done by the Department is easy to see.  Our couple must now haul in feed and water to the animals every day.  The couple's expenses will increase, and their life will be a little more difficult, and there'll be a little more air pollution and dust in this remote part of the Sulphur Springs Valley.

No benefit is apparent.  There's no reduction in net land use or water use.  Joseph Conrad Green doesn't get any measurable benefit; all the trailers are still visible to him, only a few hundred feet further away, which isn't much since they were a about a mile away to begin with.

Maybe there are intangible benefits.  Maybe Joseph Conrad Green feels more confidence in County government.  Maybe Department employees feel good because even an employee who "is not up on all the laws" can issue orders that people eventually obey.  Maybe some people have enjoyed putting rural people in their place.

Well, Joseph Conrad Green is a private citizen, and he's not responsible for how the county acted with his complaint.  Besides, Green is running for county supervisor, and it may not help his campaign when his neighbors, the people who know him best, speak up.

The individual Department inspectors merely do as they told.  With better bosses, the inspectors will either do better work, or find a new job.

As to the bosses, Judy Anderson is retiring in June.  James Vlahovich, who preceded Anderson as Planning Department head, is now Deputy County Administrator, and turns up at a lot of policy meetings.

Richard Searle, Patrick Call, and Paul Newman are the three county supervisors.  They've seen the Department act improperly time after time, and they've let the Department get away with it.  Newman isn't running for re-election, but Searle and Call are.

So Vlahovich, Searle, and Call are the problems that the voters must fix.  To them, a paraphrase of words once spoken to a British Parliament that, like our County government, diddled as good government collapsed:  You have sat in office far too long for any good you have done.  Go.

Update, June 7:  Kelly Savage of CCIPRA sent her own email to the county supervisors.  Here it is, slightly edited:
    "... a recent escapade by the county's Planning and Zoning Department has many county taxpayers furious.... I am referring to the ... 'Double E Fiasco' ... about two people living in a RV way out on 40 acres of dirt on the sparsely settled EE Ranch estates, the P&Z Dept. sent an inspector 70 miles round-trip to investigate....
    "Then the inspector made another 70-mile round trip [and] spent a good amount of time searching for violations – in direct contradiction of the Dept's public claim it doesn't have the staff to do more than check out actual complaints - and told them they had to get rid of the bagged trash in their pickup truck bed....
    "The Dept. then ... sent out two certified letters ... telling them if they didn't move the RV and travel trailers, they would be fined $750/day....
    "Then the inspector made a third round-trip visit ....
    "A few years back the salaries for inspectors were ... approximately $75,000/yr. The annual salary of the Dept.'s director is also high so ... this little fiasco cost the taxpayers approximately $696 in salaries ....  The .... gasoline cost was approximately $50 .... The dirt road is rough so there was plenty of wear-and-tear on 'our' vehicle, too. The certified letters cost about $5.00. The taxpayers estimate the cost of this one adventure at approximately $751.00 ....
    "This episode is typical of how this department consistently wastes our tax money ... when ... they go off half-cocked to track down someone who owes a $15 or $50 fee for something minor. After spending too much time and ... tax money, they get their violator and he or she pays the small fee – and maybe a small surcharge, too. Or maybe they have to take it to a hearing (paid for by the alleged violator) and it might go on to court so we have extra legal fees for our county attornies and, of course, more P&Z staff salary hours added in.
    "The taxpayers in this county are not going to stand for this wastefulness much longer. We would like to see you, as the departmental Supervisors, intervene and place an item on your agenda to make the following changes to this broken system:
    "1.) Eliminate the recent practice of taking ... 'grudge' complaints and
    "2.) Restrict complaint violation reports to abutters unless there is an urgent, serious public health/safety issue at stake....  And ... unless a serious health and safety issue is found, any costs over the actual fees collected by the Department will be paid by them, not the taxpayers. This should eliminate people [using] the long arm of the county to harass other residents.
    "3.) Unless the issue is urgent, when a complaint is received, the Dept. should use common, fiscal sense and send out an initial non-certified letter stating they received a complaint of such-and-such and a reply is needed within 14 days. They could include a blank permit, if ... needed. Cost of typing, salaries and stamp: under $5.00. If the letter is not responded to within 14 days, a certified letter with new dates should be sent giving 7 days to reply. Cost of re-printing the letter with a change of dates and postage: about $5.00. Only after the Department has tried politely to elicit the cooperation of the alleged violator, should they resort to the heavy-handed, EXPENSIVE tactic of sending an inspector out....
    "... By instituting the above changes, you would be saving us a HUGE amount of ... tax money that could perhaps go towards fixing some of our roads and infrastructure or to sponsor events that might attract clean energy employers to the county."

Planning Department plagiarism and censorship

The Cochise County Planning Department has a pattern of abusing and betraying the public.  The most recent example involves plagiarism, and an attempted coverup.

UPDATE:  here's a May 16 article about plagiarism by the sheriff of Pinal County.  His plagiarism is admitted; as noted in the article, "experts say plagiarism ... raises questions of integrity and credibility especially for an elected law enforcement officer" -- but the sheriff's buddies in the good ol' boy network don't care, any more than the Cochise County supervisors seem to care:
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24661043/from/ET/

Plagiarism

Each month, Department head Anderson disseminates a column named "The Planning Zone."  For October 2007, it supposedly was written by Don Spiva, a new employee.  The column was almost 100% plagiarism, with no credit given to any source.  The plagiarism is often word-for-word.  Here's a site which, for every passage in the column, provides an original source:
   http://littlebigdog.net/PlanDeptPlagiarism.htm
Plagiarism is theft and fraud.  Plagiarism is theft from the original author, and fraud on readers.  It's a crime, too, if a copyright is violated.  Here's a link to Wikipedia's discussion:
   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plagiarism
A plagiarist, by committing theft, fraud, and perhaps crime, has no claim to readers' trust.  So does a person who commits censorship to try to cover up plagiarism.

Coverup

Formerly, in order to email county Planning & Zoning Commissioners, citizens had to route emails through Judy Anderson.  (After this coverup scandal, that was finally changed so that each Commissioner now has a private email address.)  On November 14, a Commission meeting was set for 4 p.m.  At 8:46 a.m., I sent the Commissioners an email via Anderson.  It included the material at
   http://littlebigdog.net/PlanDeptPlagiarism.htm
At 2:36 p.m., Anderson answered that she had not forwarded my email, but instead had emailed the Commissioners a description of my email, and asked them if they wanted my email as she described it.  So I printed out the material and gave a copy to each Commissioner at the 4 p.m. meeting.

By the next day, Anderson's censorship had ended (probably thanks to a supervisor or two), and I obtained a copy of her coverup email:  "Mr. Jackson has sent me a request to forward an email alleging plagiarism in the most recent Planning Zone Column that I have been writing since about 1996. The column was related to the Building Code and used information provided by Don Spiva our Building Official and not related to the type of actions that are reviewed by the Commission. We have consulted with the County Attorney and while they agreed that we could have done a better job of attribution the information was extracted from the Insurance Service Organization site and the International Building Code site and thus most likely not a legal issue. Please let me know if you are interested in having Mr. Jackson's email forwarded to you. Thanks".

Anderson's email makes it clear that she censored email and tried a coverup.

Anderson admits "extracting" material ("from the Insurance Service Organization site and the International Building Code site"), but slides over the fact that the material was almost 100% plagiarized, with no credit given to any of the sources.

Anderson says "the County Attorney ... agreed that we could have done a better job of attribution" -- which covers up the fact that there was no attribution at all.

Anderson says the column "used information provided by Don Spiva."  That muddies the authorship of the column, whose credit line says "Guest Columnist Don Spiva, Building Official," and whose first paragraph states "Meet Don Spiva ... this column provides his perspective ...."  Coverup.

Anderson says "the information was extracted from [trade organizations] and thus most likely not a legal issue."  But "information" wasn't just "extracted," text was 100% plagiarized -- and that's morally, ethically and legally wrong.  And the trade organization websites include copyright notices, at least one of them specifically prohibiting unauthorized use.  No attorney could conclude that plagiarizing those websites would likely not create a legal issue.  Coverup.

Anderson says the column "was related to the Building Code and used information ... not related to the type of actions that are reviewed by the Commission."  However, anything related to the Building Code is subject to review by the Commission, and the column was about extending building codes -- an issue which is always before the Commission.  It's not Anderson's job to pass on only what she wants.  Coverup.

On November 22, I emailed Anderson the following:
   "The plagiarism recently published in your column was reprinted on at least the following websites:  Beickerinsulation.com [and] Inform.com and it appears as by Don Spiva only at http://www.willcoxrangenews.com/articles/2007/11/20/news/news12.txt#blogcomments [.]  Will you be informing those sites that the article was plagiarized, and that the official Cochise County website published it without knowing that it was plagiarized -- or will the county give the appearance that it endorses the publication of plagiarized material?"

On November 26, Anderson answered "I did talk to Keith Allen at the Sierra Vista Herald/ Bisbee Review about this."  I replied that her answer "does not address the spreading of the plagiarism by websites which Mr. Allen does not control, such as the Beickerinsulation.com and Inform.com sites....  In my personal opinion, and I acknowledge your right to have a different opinion, it is unwise for Cochise County government to be seen as a source of information which cannot be trusted, while on the other hand, public trust in local government would increase a great deal if the government were to be seen as following high standards in communicating with the public."  Anderson has not responded.

Update:  the Department soon set up individual email addresses for each P&Z Commissioner.  For a complete list, see Make Yourself Heard  .



In October 2007, the Planning Department failed to post a Planning & Zoning Commission meeting's agenda, so the Commission had to cancel the meeting.  The Department's official excuse was that an employee forgot -- but several citizens reminded the county to post the agenda well ahead of the deadline, so forgetting was impossible.

    One person phoned the county on Thursday, October 4, and followed up at 1:43 p.m. next Monday with an email.  At 7:46 a.m. on Tuesday, October 9, in plenty of time for the agenda to be posted, another person emailed Judy Anderson and others.  But Tuesday passed with no agenda posted.  On Wednesday morning, a citizen email to the county attorney was not answered, but an agenda was posted on the county website.
    At 9:12 a.m., a citizen emailed the county attorney that "the Open Meeting Law requires posting an agenda 24 hours before the meeting -- not earlier the same day. Therefore ... any action taken by the P&Z Commission tonight will be null and void...."
    Again no answer, but at 1:28 p.m. another email went to Anderson and others.
   
Again no answer, but about an hour later, P&Z cancelled the meeting.

    Yet the newspaper merely quoted Department head Anderson as saying "an employee forgot to post the meeting notice." Anderson's Department was incompetent at its job, but great at ducking facts, law, and responsibility.  And the newspaper let it pass.

The whole mess recalls a November 23, 2006, New York Times article on "Blunders," by Stephanie Rosenbloom.  The article says that after you make a blunder, "The worst thing that can happen 'is when people feel you're not learning, you're not open, you're not admitting mistakes and you're blaming other people' . . ."
    Amazing -- that's the Cochise County Planning Department!
    The Department isn't open.  It avoids answering emails or explaining its actions to the public, it blocks and evades discussion of issues at meetings, it communicates privately with P&Z Commissioners before meetings to set up "dirty tricks" (whose cleverness is often illegal), and so on.  The Department acts like a private club.
    The Department doesn't admit mistakes.  The Department hounds citizens in private vendettas, and when caught, gives obviously phony answers.  The Department violates the law in obvious ways, yet when a citizen points this out, the Department abandons its illegal tactics without comment, rather than defend them.  The Department never admits any mistakes -- so the Department never learns.  (Update, 1/11/08:  a new Department employee, Susanna Montana, is more forthright, and has actually admitted making some mistakes in her presentations to the Board.  What a breath of fresh air!)
    The Department blames other people for its own failures.  For instance, consider the proposed Sierra Vista Subwatershed Overlay District.  Some citizens studied the proposal hard and long, and weren't convinced that it should be adopted.  The Department's main response was that anyone who didn't like it was ignorant.

Why do minor officials treat government like their private property?
    Is their petty power so important to them that they will invite the public to sue in order to challenge their decision.  Don't they understand that if there are good grounds for a suit, the county will end up paying both sets of attorneys?

The Planning Department made fools of the county supervisors


    On an item which the county Supervisors expected the Planning Department to take to the Planning & Zoning Commission, for normal processing including a public hearing, but the Department tricked the Supervisors.

    In May 2007, the Board considered an application to transfer a liquor license for a bar that shut down years ago in Pirtleville.  About 40 neighbors protested, because of street races, fights, public urination, trash, noise, and so on.  The Department told the Board the protests weren't allowable because they were against the bar, not the owner.  It's unusual that the Department would ignore people in such a public way.
    The bar violates local zoning, but it opened before the zoning was passed, so it was "grandfathered."  During the Board meeting, the applicant told the Board that the bar had shut down two years before -- i.e., May 2005.  Usually grandfathering is lost when a business closes for so long.  But the Department didn't bring this up to the Board.  Later, a Department employee told a reporter that the Department "assumed" the tavern was still in operation.  No one who actually looked at the building could have thought so.  Why didn't the Department do its job?
    Deputy County Administrator Vlahovich, after a break in the meeting, told the Board that the property "probably lost grandfather status ... the department would need to do research as to the grandfather status ... the applicant could petition the Planning & Zoning Commission ... to reestablish the restaurant."  A dead-tree reporter wrote that "Community members still will have the opportunity to voice their concerns at a more appropriate time."  The Board did transfer the liquor license, on the understanding that the business was not grandfathered, that the Commission would have a public hearing, and that the Board would review the result.  None of that happened.
    Instead, the Department internally grandfathered the bar on the basis that it had been actively marketed.  The Department used documents provided by someone other than the applicant, and composed after the Board hearing, stating that the bar both closed, and was listed with a realtor, on the same day in 2005 -- which, oddly, was about four months after the closing date that the applicant told the Board in person.  None of the documents provided by the Department shows any investigation of this discrepancy.
    The Department didn't tell the Board that the Commission had been bypassed, and the public didn't find out until the time to appeal had run out.  The question is, how to work with a Department that can't be trusted?
    Perhaps the Board can inform the state liquor department of the unusual situation in transferring the liquor license.
    Perhaps the Board can undo the Department's internal decision to grandfather. Do the 30 days allowed for appeal start before the Department gives proper notice of its action?--because several citizens from Pirtleville have said they did not get official notice of the Department's action.
    Even if the Board can't undo the Department's oversly stealth, the Board can make sure the Department isn't so sneaky again.  If the Board finds that Department employees did not act in good faith, the employees might lose their governmental immunity from personal consequences.  For a list of possible legal sanctions, see
http://www.azag.gov/Agency_Handbook/ch2.pdf
    Perhaps the Board can make a regime change at the Department.  If the Board doesn't like being fooled by the Department, now's a good time to make some changes, or impose direct, daily, hands-on supervision of some Department employees.
    Department head Judy Anderson didn't answer an email about this problem.


The Mahan Story

Kay and L.S. Mahan, who live up around San Simon, have been struggling for almost a year to put up a sign on their property.  The property is alongside I-10, and the Mahans want to put up a sign, at their own expense (approaching $1000 just for permits), promoting tourism in Cochise County.

Putting up the sign required first rezoning the property, then getting a permit for a sign.  This sounds easy, but so far the Mahans have had to deal extensively with county Planning & Zoning -- "P&Z" -- Department head Judy Anderson, plus employees Mark Apel, Rick Corley, Britt Dveris, Darlyne Hathaway, and several others.

The Mahans say that when they first asked the P&Z Department, the answer amounted to "We don't want billboards and won't approve any!"  The Mahans spoke at length with Department employee Mark Apel.  They noted that "Clear Channel Outdoor," a large company, appears to have placed billboards all around the county in violation of ordinances that Apel said the Mahans must follow.  There was some discussion of the county's letting big companies violate county ordinances, but strictly applying the ordinances to ordinary citizens.

After that, the P&Z Department stonewalled, diddled, and nitpicked.  For instance, a county employee refused to provide reports filed by Clear Channel Outdoor, citing "Arizona Statute #42-15053" -- though Arizona has no statute "42-15053."  The Mahans had to submit some information over and over.  And, say the Mahans, P&Z employees Britt Dveris and Rick Corley, and another employee whose name the Mahans forget, toured the property, making notes and taking pictures, for 3 to 4 hours!

Finally, in October 2006, the Mahans' request got to the P&Z Commission.  The Commission approved the rezoning, but not the sign.  However, the county Board Of Supervisors had the last word.  On November 7, the Board approved the rezoning.  On November 21, over P&Z Department opposition, the Board approved the sign.

After losing the Board vote, the P&Z Department still diddled and picked its nits.  Finally, on March 26, 2007, the Mahans emailed a Department employee that "I just wonder if there are many more stumbling blocks that you people can throw in our path. It does seem that planning and zoning would have better things to devote so much time to. . . .  It is really too bad that you can't devote more time to people that are really trying to circumvent the system than to people that are trying very diligently to conform to the regulations."  The employee's answer included "I am a 'Buy the Book' kinda of person," and about a month later, she emailed the Mahans that "This is the deminsion that our accessor's office has come up with for parcel 005A."  Let's see:  a "Buy the Book" P&Z employee writes "deminsion" for "dimension," and "accessor" for "assessor."  Obviously, the Department's job training missed some basic knowledge.

The P&Z Department's recent diddling and nitpicking includes stringing out new requirements, and claiming not to know the boundaries of the Mahan's property.  But on November 21, when Department employee Britt Dveris argued against the permit, the minutes say he "showed photos of views in all directions from the property. . . .  He also displayed a location map of the parcels and a drawing showing the proposed location of the billboard."  Clearly, the Department knew in November what it claims not to know the following April.

Is Judy Anderson's P&Z Department ruled by malice?  Ignorance?  Apathy?  A fair answer is "I don't know and I don't care."  Americans have a right to honest and responsive government.  The Mahans' horror story is just one of many about the P&Z Department.  When will the Board Of Supervisors hose out this public trough?

* * * * *

The Bill Jakobek Story

Chapter 1:  The Shining On

    In March, William Jakobek, a resident of Cochise County, went to county Planning & Zoning in Bisbee about doing some work to his property, including adding a concrete driveway connecting to the road.  The desk clerk called in Diane Cratsenberg, a right of way specialist NOT in Planning & Zoning, who said that no additional Right Of Way application was necessary, and did not mention any fee.
    In April, following Cratsenberg's advice, Jakobek submitted his application for a permit.  The Bisbee office said everything was in order, accepted his application and payment, and said a permit would issue in about a week.  Later, Jakobek got a letter demanding another $65 fee to review and inspect the work after it is done.  Jakobek held off making improvements to his house, because he would be acting without a permit.

    Under the county's own rules, the $65 fee is allowed only if a permit IS required. 
    So Jakobek talked more with "permit coordinators," and on August 1 with Judy Anderson.  No one would give Jakobek a written answer until Anderson, and hers basically said "We're right, you're wrong, give us the money."
    On August 8, Jakobek made a statement to the Board Of Supervisors.  Mark Apel quickly came in and talked to Jakobek.  After the meeting, Apel and Jakobek talked with Supervisor Searle, who tried to soothe the waters.  Later that day, Apel emailed Jakobek that "no additional Right of Way application was necessary."  Under the county rule of "no application necessary, no fee assessed," this means that Jakobek didn't owe a fee.  However, Apel added that "upon receiving your check for $65, we will amend your building permit to include those right of way improvements."
    In other words, P&Z wants an extra $65 to amend the permit to include an item that's already included.
    Huh?
    Mark Apel was stuck trying to justify Anderson's nonsense.  That's below Apel; he's one of the best and brightest staffers at P&Z, and Anderson should clean up her own mess.

Chapter 2:  Not the End
    After the Board meeting on September 5, Supervisor Searle again tried to get all parties to a satisfactory resolution.  However, Searle can't order a county employee to do what is right.
    P&Z staffer Apel also conferred again with Searle & Jakobek.  I have never seen Apel get agitated when he is basing his statements on fact and logic, but on September 5, he became quite agitated.  Eventually, he handed Mr. Jakobek off to the staffer -- not in P&Z -- that Mr. Jakobek first talked to.
    She at first appeared hostile to Mr. Jakobek's position, and argued that the matter had gone on far too long, and taken up far more county employee time than it was worth.  After several minutes, citizens noted that it seemed unfair to value county time so highly, while taking no account of the aggravation to Mr. Jakobek.  The discussion then became more productive.  Eventually, the employee realized she had been discounting a crucial fact.  At that time, my only real point came into play:  that if everyone is thoroughly confused by county rules, then it is unfair to require a citizen to follow them.
    In other words, a good resolution would be to let Mr. Jakobek proceed as the expert originally said -- without taking this as a precedent for any other situation -- AND to change county rules so that they can be understood.
    What will happen now remains up in the air.  When it is resolved, a report will follow up.  Still up in the air as of September 23, 2006.  Amazing.
    Meanwhile, if you have experienced similar high-handed treatment from P&Z, you could email your story to mpj@vtc.net .  CCIPRA members and friends already know that sticking together pays off.  This can be another example.
Chapter 3:  Maybe the End
    The county finally issued Jakobek a letter that seems to let him proceed without paying the $65 fee.  That's what he plans to do.  Now we'll see if the county lives up to its letter, or again starts being a nuisance.

* * * * *

The Board Of Supervisors approved illegal acts, resulting in illegal fees, by Planning & Zoning

Cochise County "Planning & Zoning" includes the P&Z Department and the P&Z Commission. The Department is county employees; the Commission is 9 people, 3 appointed by each Supervisor on the Board Of Supervisors. The Department proposes rules to the Commission, and if the Commission approves them, the Department then proposes them to the Board Of Supervisors. Nothing takes effect until the Board approves.

At the February 8 Commission meeting, the Department proposed a new series of four letters and fines on citizens building without a permit. For the 1st letter, the fine would be $25. For a 2nd letter, $100. For the 3rd, $200. For the 4th, $400. (The Department calls the 1st letter a notice of violation, the 2nd letter the 1st letter, the 3rd letter the 2nd letter, and the 4th letter a notice of hearing.)

Of course, a citizen may choose not to obey the Department's letters, for good reasons, that Department bureaucrats don't understand. For example, at the February 8 meeting, a citizen asked about fines and fees for building a simple dog shelter. Two P&Z staffers answered, and contradicted each other. Citizens shouldn't have to jump to obey orders written by confused, incompetent, or malicious bureaucrats.

However, P&Z wanted the fines specifically to PUNISH citizens who respond to a P&Z order within the time allowed by law, but not fast enough to satisfy Department bureaucrats. P&Z Commissioner Corey asked "why aren't we charging [the public] more and why can't we do it daily?" Corey exclaimed "I DO want to be punitive!" Other P&Z people echoed Corey's sentiments. When a County attorney explained that the law wouldn't let an administrative agency punish people, Corey said "That's not what I wanted to hear." Then the attorney immediately relapsed into talking about punishment -- Freudian slip city.

The law also requires that fees be attributable to, and go toward the expense of, a specific service to the public, AND that a fee not exceed the cost of the service. An example would be a small fee for providing copies of filed documents.

But on February 8, the Department said it wanted the fees to pay for new employees -- that is, for future bureaucratic overhead in general. Worse, the Department even inflated its costs -- for example, claiming it takes an employee 15 minutes to find a lot on a county map, and 3 minutes to choose one name from a list of four. Worst, the Department wanted fees exceeding the inflated costs: a $25 fee for $18.50 of inflated time, $100 for $84.77, $200 for $179.86, and $400 for $375.06 of inflated time.

Amazingly, the Commission knowingly approved fees that were illegally large, even after Department employee Weiland said "our county attorney says that in the case of a surcharge, it needs to be exactly equal to the price it costs the county to provide the service."

Then the Department took the illegal fees to the Board Of Supervisors for final approval. On April 4, the Department made its pitch -- but increased the claimed costs, so that the corresponding fees were now less than the costs, and did not break the law. BUT THE DEPARTMENT DID NOT TELL THE BOARD THAT IT HAD CHANGED THE FIGURES.

A citizen blew the whistle. Supervisor Newman asked the Department to explain. The answer lasted three and a half minutes, and incoherently strung together a dozen or more subjects ranging from salaries to the Bell Curve. It was a classic example of a liar, caught pants down, trying to explain away the facts -- and amid the verbiage, the Department admitted inflating its costs to match the fees it wants to charge.

Yet the Board approved the Department's fees, and the public is stuck with them -- until public pressure makes the Board re-examine its approval of illegalities.


When Your Friends Foul Up, Blame Your Enemies

    An article in the Sierra Vista Herald reported on the building of an 11 1/2 foot high wall near Palominas school.  The story hints at incompetence, and maybe worse, in county supervisor Patrick Call's district.
    The story quotes a county engineer as saying "the wall was supposed to be just 3 1/2 feet high.... the school district requested the height of the wall be increased for privacy."  But the story doesn't say who decided to raise the wall to 11 1/2 feet, and the story doesn't pursue the issue of how much privacy a playground needs.
    The story says Call said "the cost of the project ended up being more than the county estimated at the time, so the project involving extensive drainage and flood control measures could not be completed."  But the story doesn't say how much the cost overrun was, or how much went for building a "prison wall" for the playground.
    The story says "Rutherford Diversified Industries Inc. of Sierra Vista bid $398,708 to construct the earthen berm along state Highway 92 and construct the 11 1/2-foot concrete-block flood wall."  But the story doesn't say how much more money Rutherford collected, or mention that Rutherford gets a lot of government contracts, and is run by Mike Rutherford, Vice President of the Southeastern Arizona Contractors Association, a group with close political ties to supervisor Call.
    The story says a county project engineer "confirmed that part of the wall is not on school property."  But the story doesn't say how much of the wall is trespassing, or onto whose property, or who didn't read the map.
    The story says "No one asked the handful of residents living behind the school whether or not they wanted a block wall in their back yard."  This isn't the first time that county government has treated citizens like dirt.
    The story says "the Miller family, who have owned and operated a feed and mercantile store at the corner of Highway 92 and Palominas Road for years, doubts the logic of the county's move, since now all that extra water ends up crossing their property, making it unusable during the rainy season....  The fence line along Palominas road was being washed away, leaving a gap between the ground and the fence just big enough for a calf to get under....  So, the Millers dammed up a wash on their property just below the culvert and built a 3-foot berm down the length of their property on Palominas Road...."  The county then hammered the Millers, and now "the county agreed to buy 10 acres to run a channel toward the San Pedro River and hope to have the details worked out by September.  So the cost to the public will go up more.
    All this happened in county supervisor Call's district.  The story quotes Call's explanation:  "We had to do something."  Evidently Call didn't address why "something" turned out to be illegal and incompetent work.
    Call is quoted as saying "Sheet flow through the valley is significant and wildcat developers, those that divide land into four-acre plots, have no standards to meet when it comes to flood control."  In short, for a mess by the county and a big contractor, Call blames small developers, who had no connection with this project.  Call took an irrelevant, cheap shot, apparently to serve his big-developer masters.
    The newspaper story closes by citing a statute about obstructing water flow.  County government might consider Arizona Revised Statute 38-443:  "A public officer or person holding a position of public trust or employment who knowingly omits to perform any duty the performance of which is required of him by law is guilty of a class 2 misdemeanor unless special provision has been made for punishment of such omission."

The Best Supervisor, But Still Too Big For His Job


Supervisor Richard Searle is a nice guy.  His heart is in the right place.  He's smart and hardworking.  He has many excellent points.  He's probably the best supervisor now in office.  But he has a persistent problem with the limits to his individual authority, and there are obvious, and serious, doubts about re-electing him.
    His problems were evident in October 2007, when he sat on the Valley Union High School Governing Board in a hearing about firing a teacher.  The Governing Board allowed the hearing to proceed with all five members, including Sue Makin, even though the teacher's counsel produced an affidavit indicating that Makin had said she had prejudged the matter and that the evidence would not change her vote.  Searle was on the right side procedurally, but after this vote lost, he seemed to give up the idea of following proper process.
    For instance, Searle voted with the Board not to accept a settlement between the parties, even after both sides asked the Board to accept the settlement.  Searle said he wanted to proceed in order to find out the facts.  Searle's personal curiosity is not enough reason to reject a settlement.
    Also, Searle said several times that the proceedings included errors which made reversal on appeal very likely (which is true) AND THEREFORE that he wanted the hearing to proceed.  Huh?  The relationship is not a "therefore," it's a "despite."  When you perceive that a very expensive process will ultimately be useless, the thing to do is stop immediately; don't run up expenses in useless work.
    Also, when the teacher's counsel moved for a mistrial or dismissal of all charges, on the grounds that the prosecution had provided some evidence to Board members but withheld if from defense counsel, Searle said that the error in favor of the defendant was balanced out by an error in favor of the prosecution.  That's not how things work.  Errors don't cancel, they add up; trials are not fair just because each side is the victim of unfairness.
    Searle could have asked for more guidance from the school board's own attorney, but didn't.  It's that lack of understanding of his own limits that has led Searle astray time after time as a County supervisor.
 An individual Supervisor has little authority.  It's the Board that has authority, as a body.  See
http://www.azleg.state.az.us/FormatDocument.asp?inDoc=/ars/11/00251.htm&Title=11&DocType=ARS

But often, Searle doesn't seem to "get" that point.
    -- Searle told a local dairy owner to go ahead and build a feedlot without a permit -- or else to build a grazing lot -- or else something else -- and Searle confused the dairy owner -- or the dairy owner confused Searle -- or they both were confused.  The dairy owner went ahead and built the feedlot claiming to rely on what Searle said, but on May 9, 2007, the P&Z Commission denied a permit for the feedlot.  Now the case is in court.  This royal mess exists because Searle didn't "get" that he personally can't give permission to anyone to ignore county regulations.
    -- 
Searle decided that even though Phase 2 of the new county building codes did not go into effect until approximately July 2006 (about 3 months later than originally planned) and even though the Board wanted an extensive evaluation of Phase 2 before beginning Phase 3, that Phase 3 would begin on April 1, 2007, instead of waiting for the evaluation of Phase 2.  Searle apparently made the decision on his own hook.
    --
The Board meeting on March 19, 2007, had just one subject, a zoning change in Sunsites.  Opponents collected enough protests to satisfy the state's "20% rule:"  if there is a protest from 20% of the property owners, by area and number, within 300' of a proposed zoning change, then the proposal fails unless all 3 supervisors vote for it.  Searle told the opponents to deliver their protests by noon on March 19.  They did so, and stopped collecting signatures.  But about two hours later, deputy county attorney Britt Hanson declared that people could file protests (and implicitly also withdraw them) right up until the supervisors voted.  Only the developer was told about this change; the opponents weren't.  The developer kept on working, and just before the meeting began, a large landowner withdrew his protest, so that the 20% rule was no longer satisfied.  At the meeting, Searle said he did not have legal authority to require protests to be handed in by noon -- so the rule change stood, and the opponents lost out.

Sometimes, even when acting within his authority, Searle abuses it.  An act can be legal, and still be wrong; that's why the concept of "abuse of authority" exists.
    
-- during the March 19 meeting discussed in the previous paragraph, hundreds of people were present, many wanting to speak.  Searle allotted 2 hours for speaking, then cut off the speakers, in order to waste 42 minutes reading the name and address of everyone who said "for" or "against" in writing.
    --
Searle moved the "Call To the Public" at Board meetings to the next to last item on the agenda.  The "Call To the Public" used to let the common herd be heard on issues that mattered to them, but on which no public hearing was scheduled.  Now the public can't speak on such matters at a time when their words might actually matter.

And here's Searle's latest (as far as we know) big screwup:

The Mess On Ocotillo Road Near Benson

The Sierra Vista Herald ran its version of this story on Monday, December 10, 2007, followed by a correction on Wednesday, December 12.  Obviously, things went on behind the scenes.  To follow up, here's the story as written by Terri Jo Neff, followed by a response by county supervisor Searle, who basically confirms Neff's article.

OCOTILLO ROAD'S COSTLY CONSTRUCTION WOES -- RESIDENTS BLAME SUPERVISOR, WHO BLAMES HIGHWAY DEPT -- by Terri Jo Neff
    It seemed like a good deal for Cochise County taxpayers.  Remove a weight restriction on part of Ocotillo Road north of Benson to allow a sand and gravel company to open, thus providing tax revenue, jobs, and a local source of road materials. At the same time the County would require the company to provide materials for four miles of badly needed repairs.
    Unfortunately things haven't worked the way County officials planned, with construction already costing taxpayers nearly $400,000 with more work pending.
    And while District 3 Supervisor Richard Searle isn't happy with how the project was handled, many people who live along Ocotillo Road aren't happy with Searle.
    Residents point to Searle's April 2005 vote to lift a weight restriction in place since 1996 as the beginning of a construction nightmare. The weight restriction was all that kept Huachuca Concrete from operating the pit, because its trucks would exceed the weight limit when full.
    Searle's vote was unpopular with residents, several of whom spoke against eliminating the 12-ton restriction. They argued that noise, traffic, and lights associated with the commercial operation would negatively impact the area, and that the road, which runs from Benson to Willow Lakes, was in too poor of shape to support the heavy trucks.
    So as a condition for removing the weight restriction, the Board of Supervisors required Huachuca Concrete to provide some materials needed to rebuild some of Ocotillo. Without the agreement, the Highway Department reported it would take years to improve the old roadway, which was built long before engineering standards were applied.
    The agreement with Huachuca Concrete, supporters like Searle argued, would allow the County to begin upgrading a roadway well known for poor drainage, dangerous curves, and a lack of paved shoulders.
    The extensive project was broken down into several phases, the first being a redesign of the curve near milepost 1. That work was completed in fiscal year 2005-2006.
    The next phase, completed earlier this year as part of fiscal year 2006-2007,  involved reconstructing one mile of roadway from Benson's city limits to the redesigned curve, as well as a half-mile stretch north from milepost 3.
    But within a few months it was obvious there were major problems with the new asphalt, which was unraveling or chunking out. Now the one mile stretch from the Benson city limits was torn up, pending a decision by County officials of what to do.
    So what went wrong, and how did a project the supervisors were told would cost $227,000 end up costing the County nearly $400,000, not including future costs?
    According to Searle, Huachuca Concrete has honored their end of the deal by providing the materials required. But several miscues by the Highway Department are to blame for a laundry list of problems, he says. Add in substantial price increases for petroleum the past few years and the cost kept going up.
    Searle points to a series of actions, including low-end estimates, changing the surface material from chip seal to asphalt, utilizing more expensive outside contractors instead of county workers, and ignoring on-site concerns about a subcontractor's qualifications.
    An independent evaluation, paid for by the County when the unraveling was noticed, found 85% of asphalt tests failed known industry specifications. According to the evaluation, the fault isn't with the asphalt from Huachuca Concrete, but rather with the County engineer's decision to mix other materials with the Huachuca Concrete asphalt.
    In addition, the asphalt wasn't laid or rolled correctly by a subcontractor.
    Searle says a specific concern about the subcontractor was "detected by the County crews working on the project and was ignored when brought to the attention of their superiors."
    After the asphalt began unravling, the Highway Department entered into  negotiations with the contractor and subcontractors. Those discussions were further complicated by the fact that the independent evaluation found problems with the County's sub-base below the asphalt, although those problems weren't visible.
    (Why the evaluation reported a 47% failure rate of the County's work, yet the County's own tests detected no problems, is under review, says Searle.)
    One thing for certain is that the signed settlement places most of the cost on the County, which will pay for all materials to re-asphalt the road, and all the labor except for the asphalt re-lay.
    "As a County Supervisor, it concerns me that the Department would finalize the settlement of a contract dispute of such significance without any consultation of the Board of Supervisors," says Searle.
    The department is now headed by Interim Director Patricia Morris, who is working with the Supervisors, County Attorney's Office, and County Administrator Michael Ortega to resolve the Ocotillo Road issues.
    Morris must also decide what to do about unraveling asphalt at milepost 3, and determine when they can complete another 1.5 mile phase scheduled for the 2007-2008 fiscal year.
    Changes need to be made, says Searle, to hold department heads accountable on such projects, and ensure departments are more open to review. "There needs to be a clear order of responsibilty on projects," explains Searle, as well as more oversight of work contracted out to other companies.
    Calling the costs and Highway Department's failure to properly oversee the project "inexcusable," Searle says the Ocotillo Road problems have provided an opportunity to look at policies. "If anything positive comes out of this, this (review) may be it."
    County trucks are keeping the torn up roadway watered, at further expense, in an attempt to control dust until the roadwork is refinished.
    Meanwhile, neighbors point out that the asphalt problem would not have occurred if Searle had listened to them instead of voting against their wishes.
    Though it might seem like a politically opportune time for Searle to say "I was wrong" he actually stands by his vote to lift the weight restriction.
    He points out that having a gravel company in this area saves the County and other consumers the cost of trucking materials from other areas.  And while a multiple-phase construction plan wasn't ideal, Searle notes that the free "materials from Huachuca Concrete allowed some of road's issues to be addressed sooner" than the County would have otherwise.

After receiving that story, I forwarded it to county supervisor Searle and asked if he had any comment.  Searle did have some comments, which are reproduced in full below.

Up front, Searle says "The article is basically correct," and adds only one correction, that "Huachuca Concrete did not provide the asphalt .... They did provide base material (gravel) ...."  The rest of Searle's comments concern his vote on the project, not its implementation.  This is a matter of great political concern, so the public will be interested in his statement.

Here's Searle's complete response, word for word, without further comment:
    The article is basically correct with the exception that Huachuca Concrete did not provide the asphalt to the project. They did provide base material (gravel) which met the specifications of the job. The asphalt came from a supplier in Tucson.
    The only clarification that I would add, is that my vote to approve the removal of the weight limit on Ocotillo was based on the following facts:
    1. The road needed to be rebuilt due to safety and structural issues and was scheduled for reconstruction within the next several years.
    2. Huachuca Concrete was willing to provide all the base and chip material that was needed to reconstruct the road to a level that would support their use. This contribution was significant and was valued in excess of $200,000.
    3. The County's professional Highway's staff indicated that the existing road could handle the truck traffic without endangering either the road or the residents.
    4. The County has no legal land use jurisdiction over mining, agriculture or railroads. With the recommendation from staff that the road could handle the trucks, any weight limit restrictions based on preventing Huachuca Concrete from using their property could be seen as an illegal use of County regulations to prevent their legal use of their property and open the County to a potential law suit.
    5. Ocotillo Road is a public road open for use for all public.
    6. Funding for the County Highway Department is seriously insufficient and any contribution to road improvements should be seriously considered.
    There were other potential benefits of allowing Huachuca Concrete to open their pit which were mentioned in the article but were not the main reasons for my vote. Another point that the article did not report was the the contribution of the contractor responsible for the initial poor asphalt application to the final repair had a value in excess of $100,000. I am serious about holding County Government accountable for their actions whether it is Highways, P&Z, Facilities, or Health. This was an extreme case of lack of proper oversight and requires a strong response from the Board.