Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller walked out of a heated board meeting today as her delays in responding to public-records requests were being discussed.
“I have an urgent appointment I need to get to,” Miller said. “I thought we’d be done by now.”
After Miller’s departure, the board voted for a new records policy that would require members to turn over public records related to county business created on personal computers and devices such as smart phones, as well as public records created on private email accounts.
Before she left the meeting, Miller pledged to turn over any public records created on personal devices.
While Miller has told county officials that she and her staff have not done county business on private email accounts or on private devices, recently uncovered records suggest that District 1 staffers, including Miller, may indeed have discussed county business using their private email accounts.
Today’s board vote leaves Miller in a precarious legal position: If she has used her private email to conduct county business and she fights the release of those records in court, she could be forced to hire a private attorney at her own expense. And if she loses in court, she could also be liable for the legal costs of the media organizations that are seeking the records.
Miller’s departure from the board meeting today came after a highly unusual moment: She was directly questioned by Dylan Smith, the editor and publisher of the Tucson Sentinel, about when she would comply with his records request. Smith was asked by board members to discuss his experience in trying to get public records from Miller's office.
The Sentinel, along with the Tucson Weekly and Arizona Daily Star, has been digging into what Miller knew about a purported news website that was launched last month by a staffer in Miller’s office under a false identity. The employee, Tim DesJarlais, initially denied being behind the website but after he quit his job in Miller’s office, he confessed to launching the Arizona Daily Herald.
Miller initially stood behind DesJarlais and lashed out at the press for besmirching his reputation, but has since called for him to face criminal charges for filing a cyber–crime report with the FBI at her urging that now appears to have been a false report.
While the episode with DesJarlais was an embarrassment for Miller, she has come under increased criticism from the press and her fellow board members for her slow response to public-records requests from the Sentinel, Weekly and Star that could help shed light on whether she and other members of her District 1 office had knowledge of DesJarlais’ masquerading as a reporter. She also said she wanted to bill the news organizations thousands of dollars for the public records.
Once Board Chair Sharon Bronson asked for a discussion of the records request on the agenda for today’s meeting, Miller began releasing the records last week, but they were heavily redacted.
In addition to voting to require the release of records created on private devices, the Board also voted today to have Clerk of the Board Robin Brigode examine the records that the media have requested and release them with more limited redactions.
The board also voted to develop a new policy regarding media requests for public records in order to avoid allowing the subject of records request be in charge of redacting the information released.
Miller, who has frequently criticized other board members and County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry as corrupt and incompetent, is running for a second term on the board this year. She faces Republican John Winchester in the August primary and, if she survives that, Democrat Brian Bickel in the November general election. Both Bickel and Winchester were in the audience today as Miller faced criticism from her fellow board members over the public-records controversy.