There have been many strange moments in the first term of Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller.
There are the repeated episodes of leveling serious accusations of corruption and lawlessness that are either later abandoned by Miller or fail to stand up in the face of investigation by outside agencies. There's her opposition to economic development efforts to aid companies such as Raytheon, the county's largest private employer. There is the ongoing staff turnover in her office as employees either quit or get canned because Miller's management style creates a chaotic working environment. There was the time she called 911 to see if someone could have an unflattering Tucson Weekly story taken down from the internet.
But the last two weeks have seen one of the strangest episodes yet: The brief life of the Arizona Daily Herald, a website that popped up for a few days before vanishing after being linked to one of Miller's most recent hires, Timothy DesJarlais.
DesJarlais, 19, joined Miller's staff earlier this year as her communications and social-media strategist. He also has developed a rich online fantasy world in which he is the president of the Independent Republic of Dido Place, named for the street on which he lives with his parents.
DesJarlais has also developed the alter ego of Jim Falken, who has also served as the president of the Independent Republic of Dido Place after DesJarlais was "kidnapped" in the imaginary world.
Jim Falken was also the name of the editor of the Arizona Daily Herald. About two weeks ago, county officials started getting emails from Falken, who asked them to start sending press releases to him. A few days later, candidates for the Board of Supervisors, including Miller's GOP primary opponent emails asking what they thought of a road-repair plan that Miller had recently released.
DesJarlais did not return phone calls from the Weekly asking if he was masquerading as a reporter under a false name while working as the communications staffer in Miller's District 1 office. But when confronted by Explorer News reporter Logan Burtch-Buus at an Oro Valley meeting last week, DesJarlais refused to comment and then fled into a bathroom.
Miller did not return a phone call from the Weekly seeking comment on the entire bizarre affair. But on Facebook and in interviews with other news outlets, she has insisted that neither she nor DesJarlais had anything to do with the publication and that the entire project was designed to smear her and her staff.
Here's how the story unfolded:
Thursday, May 12: Pima County supervisors start getting emails from someone identifying himself as Arizona Daily Herald editor Jim Falken. Pima County Supervisor Ramon Valadez, for example, receives the following email:
"I am emailing you today to ask you to add me on Supervisor Ramon Valadez's press advisory/release emailing list so that I can receive all your most recent updates and such. I am the editor of newly founded paper and would like to stay informed with the workings of your office."
Sunday, May 15: Several candidates for office in Pima County receive emails from Jim Falken asking if they would comment on a new proposal by Ally Miller to fix Pima County's roads. Among the recipients is Republican John Winchester, who is challenging Miller in the August GOP primary.
Winchester tells the Weekly he was suspicious because he had never heard of Falken or the Arizona Daily Herald, so he researched Jim Falken on the internet. He soon found several sites that linked Falken to DesJarlais.
"It was very strange," Winchester says. "The Herald doesn't exist and it has a WordPress website that has nothing on it, as well as a Facebook and Twitter page that was recently created. ... I looked into it and turns out that this young man, Timothy DesJarlais, created this character two years ago and he has a YouTube page where he's pretending to be president of a nonsense world that he's created. He's evidently resurrected the character for this newspaper."
Winchester does not respond to Falken's email.
Tuesday, May 17, morning: The Arizona Daily Herald posts its first news story on Facebook, reporting a story about the supervisors passing a ban on texting while driving. The story includes a photo of the supervisors taken by DesJarlais.
Tuesday, May 17, evening: Tucson Sentinel's Dylan Smith has a phone conversation with DesJarlais. Smith later reports that DesJarlais denies being the Jim Falken who is editing the Herald, although he concedes that he has used that alter ego in the past. He admits to taking the photo that appeared on the publication's Facebook page, but says he texted the photo to "a friend" who must remain nameless because DesJarlais is not comfortable revealing the friend's name to the press.
Almost immediately after Smith's interview with DesJarlais, traces of the Arizona Daily Herald and Jim Falken begin vanishing from the web.
Wednesday, May 18: DesJarlais and Miller ignore phone calls from the Weekly regarding the connections between DesJarlais and Falken.
But Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll, who has been feuding with Miller since she took office in 2013, does not hesitate to suggest that Miller "absolutely" knew about "this guy's mischievous activities."
"It does not surprise me because she is unethical and would do anything to damage the brand of Pima County and then later deny it," Carroll says. "I just have to say, I've never seen anything more crazy than her fake news service by any political activist, let alone an elected official, in all the years I've been in office in Southern Arizona."
Thursday, May 19, late afternoon: Explorer reporter Logan Burtch-Buus confronts DesJarlais at an Oro Valley Town Council meeting about his connections to Herald editor Jim Falken. DesJarlais refuses to comment and runs into the bathroom to avoid Burtch-Buus.
Thursday, May 19, evening: The Weekly, the Sentinel and the Arizona Daily Star post online stories exposing the connections between DesJarlais, Jim Falken and the Arizona Daily Herald.
Friday, May 20, morning: Dejarlais releases a statement to the Arizona Daily Independent, a local pro-Miller blog that spins the story as a cruel media attacking Miller and DesJarlais.
"Regarding the current Arizona Daily Herald site and email address, those accounts are bogus accounts created by someone trying to impersonate me," DesJarlais says. "As I work for Supervisor Miller and know both Kim (DeMarco) and Marla (Closen) well, I would have no reasons or time to pull any stunts like this. Nevertheless, I do apologize to anyone for the inconveniences caused to them and charge whoever did this to come forward and confess the truth."
Friday, May 20, afternoon: Miller comes to the defense of DesJarlais. She and DesJarlais tell the Explorer's Burtch-Buus that DesJarlais has been set up by a man named John Dalton, who asked DesJarlais to send him a photo from the board meeting.
Friday, May 20, evening: KVOA News airs report titled "Pima Supervisor said online impersonator is trying to smear office." Miller tells the station that she is reporting the situation to the FBI and attributes it to her political enemies.
Saturday, May 21, afternoon: Jim Falken, editor of the Arizona Daily Herald, resurfaces! He sends out an email to try to set the record straight and clear the names of both DesJarlais and Dalton.
This Jim Falken—let's call him Jim Falken No. 2—explains that his real name is John Dalton and he had an interest in starting a political blog, but decided it would have more credibility if he used a fake name. He recalled seeing the name of Jim Falken a few years ago and decided to adopt it. The entire affair, he explains, is the result of remarkable coincidences and misunderstandings.
"I have gotten into blogging and I wanted to start up my own news platform but to both protect my identity and make me seem objective, I utilized the pseudonym, Jim Falken, which I happened to run across while observing some nation roleplaying and blogs by a Timothy DesJarlais," Jim Falken No. 2 explained in his email. "Although I did use the same pseudonym as Mr DesJarlais, under no circumstances did I ever intend to assume his identity. All of my social media accounts never used a single picture of him and I never mentioned his name in all of my work."
"During the Tuesday Board of Supervisors meeting, I was watching it via the county's online streaming webpage," the email continued. "During discussion of the Ban on Texting Ordinance, I wanted a picture for my Facebook page and one of my friends gave me Timothy DeJarlais's number, who apparently was a staffer for Supervisor Miller and usually attended the meetings. I texted him requesting a picture, identifying myself as John Dalton, which he replied rather quickly. I posted up the picture and it did surprise me how quickly he seemed to respond, but it has now dawned on me that he may have confused me with another 'John Dalton.' Upon further research, there is another John Dalton out there who has come from Michigan and ran for Arizona delegate during this year's state convention. It has come to my attention that Mr. DesJarlais has gotten me confused with this John Dalton, although we are two different people with different phone numbers numbers. It also seems others have been confused and alleged that Mr DeJarlais is the owner of the Arizona Daily Herald."
In his email, Jim Falken No. 2 (aka John Dalton No. 2) appears eager to set the record straight and clear DesJardais's name. But calls to the number on his press release go unreturned.
Miller seizes upon this development as vindication of DesJarlais and another step toward justice. She writes on her Facebook page: "We have received a confession from an individual named John Dalton, which will be turned over to the FBI to investigate and let the process work prior to convicting someone."
Sunday, May 22, morning: The local media receive an email from John R. Dalton Jr. Dalton says he is the real and—to the best of his knowledge—only John R. Dalton Jr. in the Tucson area.
Dalton explains that he has "nothing, nor have ever had anything, to do with any part of the current scandal surrounding Supervisor Ally Miller and her staff member Timothy DesJarlais" and that he only learned of the story of the Arizona Daily Herald after "my name was strangely mentioned by Supervisor Miller and I started receiving comments on my Facebook wall from her about an FBI investigation."
"I later learned through the news what was going on," Dalton continued. "Note: I do not know Supervisor Miller, but I did shake her hand a few months ago at a 4Tucson event. Timothy DesJarlais has never been a friend of mine, although we did speak at some point, months ago, regarding the AZGOP convention in Mesa, Arizona."
Dalton added that "the e-mail sent to you using my name is fraudulent in its entirety. The person who wrote the e-mail obviously did so as an act of desperation and made some very big mistakes. The person says that he is not to be confused with the other 'John Dalton out there who has come from Michigan and ran for Arizona delegate ...' In this section of the e-mail, it is apparent the person is referring to me, yet at the end of the e-mail he signs off using the full legal name of the only John Dalton, in the entire city of Tucson, who is from Michigan and was a state delegate, John R. Dalton Jr. (me)."
Dalton seconded Miller's call for an investigation: "Since Supervisor Ally Miller has already filed complaints with the authorities to investigate who the idiot is that is behind all of this, it is my hope that an investigation goes forward, so we can bring the person responsible up on criminal charges and placed behind bars. On top of this, once a name is released, it is also my full intention to file a civil case in court against the individual or individuals. I do not take lightly to someone using my name for illicit activities."
In an interview with the Weekly, Dalton says he has been confused by Miller's threats to report him to the FBI.
"I have nothing to do with these websites or this fake name—Jim Falken or whatever," Dalton says. "It's frustrating to be accused of something that I have no clue about. It's confusing, but at the same time, I want to get to the bottom of what the heck is going on. Ally Miller is posting stuff with my name on it. She should figure out who this is first."
Monday, May 23, morning: Pima County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bronson asks County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry to investigate exactly who was doing what with whom in the short life of the Arizona Daily Herald.
"I have become increasingly concerned over the last several days with the identify theft claims made by John R. Dalton Jr. ... and Pima County employee Timothy DesJarlais, as reported by the local media," Bronson wrote.
"To assure transparency and full disclosure and in the interest of serving justice, I am requesting that an investigation be undertaken to determine the extent of county staff involvement and any county resources used in same and in the creation and demise of the online Arizona Daily Herald," she continues. "Please determine the appropriate agency to conduct this investigation. If you feel such action on your part requires Board approval, please advise me to that end and I will place the matter on the Board of Supervisors June 7th agenda for consideration."
Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll, who has frequently tangled with Miller, said he supported the call for an investigation by county officials.
"It's time this was investigated by the appropriate law enforcement body," Carroll said. "We can't let Ally Miller go unsupported in her effort to find the real Jim Falken."
Monday, May 23, afternoon: The Weekly's deadline is here! But more is sure to come, so keep an eye on the blog for real-time updates into the strange tale of Jim Falken and the Arizona Daily Herald.