Free Ride

Supervisor drives county vehicle to promote his candidacy at political functions.

Pima County taxpayers shelled out $126,416 to outfit the Board of Supervisors in vehicles that sometimes provide nothing but conveyance to purely political gatherings.

Take Richard Elias, a bureaucrat until he was chosen in February to replace Raul Grijalva. Elias took the keys to the 1999 GMC Jimmy that Grijalva used. Together, they racked up 11,925 miles on the $26,220 Jimmy in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

Elias is defending his seat in a Democratic primary against Frank Felix, a former state senator and University of Arizona administrator. The advantage of incumbency, even through appointment, includes transportation. Elias rolled up to a debate last week at the Democrats of Greater Tucson arena, the midtown Jasmine Garden restaurant, in his taxpayer-provided Jimmy, filled with taxpayer-financed gas and driven by a taxpayer-financed aide.

Five days later, Elias appeared before the fervently faithful members of the Pima County Interfaith Council during an "accountability" session at El Pueblo Neighborhood Center. Elias again had the luxury of cool travel that Saturday in his white county Jimmy, which he also has converted into a rolling advertisement for his key mentor, Grijalva, who is seeking a seat in Congress.

Asked about using the county SUV for political functions Elias said: "I've never heard it's been a problem. I can check into it." Asked about the the Grijalva campaign sticker pasted on a rear window, he said, "If it's not right, I'll remove it."

Elias was not the only supevisor using a county vehicle for the political rally. Sharon Bronson, Democratic chairman of the Board of Supervisors, was not on the Interfaith Council's agenda. But, now the object of a recall campaign, Bronson drove to El Pueblo in her 2001 Jimmy that cost taxpayers $26,503.

Bronson represents District 3, the county's largest political territory that reaches from the northwest side around the Tucson Mountains and to Ajo. But she has the lowest mileage for the last year--5,363, county records show.

Ray Carroll, a Republican who five years went through the same appointment process as Elias and won his seat on Grijalva's sponsorship, chose a 2001 Ford Ranger that cost taxpayers $18,714. His District 4 extends from Mount Lemmon to Green Valley and he logged the most mileage last year at 17,479.

Ann Day, a Republican in northside and foothills District 1, drives a 2001 Jimmy that cost $26,303. She posted 10,058 miles in the last year. And Dan Eckstrom, a South Tucson Democrat who has been in office since 1988, drives a 2001 Chevy Blazer that cost $28,674. He drove 7,052 miles last year.

Gas for those vehicles also is free and pumped by county workers. Tires and washes and insurance also come courtesy of the taxpayers. All supervisors must do is report the benefit to the Internal Revenue Service.

Supervisors are paid $54,600 a year in salary and provided top health care and retirement plans. They also command annual budgets of more than $260,000 for staff and office operations.