The Skinny

Runaway Trainwreck

Pima County Supervisor Miller storms out of board meeting after she comes under fire

As she faced tough questions from her fellow supervisors and the press, Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller got up and walked out of a heated board meeting last Tuesday, June 21.

"I have an urgent appointment I need to get to," Miller said. "I thought we'd be done by now."

The board was discussing Miller's many delays in responding to public-records requests.

After Miller's sudden 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 and via private email addresses.

While Miller has told the County Clerk's Office that she and her staff have not done county business on private email accounts or on private devices, recently uncovered records show that District 1 staffers, including Miller, have discussed county business using their private email accounts.

At least one email recently released by Miller's office shows that Miller and her staff discussed a recent ordinance regarding panhandling in medians via private Gmail addresses.

Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll, who has frequently tangled with Miller since she was elected in 2012, accused Miller of deceiving the public.

"I have proof that she's lying about that," Carroll said after the meeting, citing the Gmail correspondence on the panhandling ordinance. "It's tough to call people out, but it has to be said because that is the truth."

Miller's departure from last week's board meeting came after she was directly questioned by Tucson Sentinel editor and publisher Dylan Smith about when she would comply with his public records requests request. 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 after Miller urged him to do so. It not appears, needless to say, that this was 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 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 last week's meeting, Miller began releasing the records, but they were heavily redacted.

Miller's decision to release the records came after she received a June 9 memo from Deputy County Attorney Karen S. Friar, who told her that the county would have a hard time defending Miller's position in court.

"In light of the statutory language, the court rulings set forth here and in countless other cases, and the fact that once redactions are made the county has the ability to scan the pages and produce them electronically at a very small cost to both the government and the requestor, we believe you would not be likely to prevail in court if you continue to insist on providing paper copies at 35 cents per page," Friar wrote. "If the Star is successful in a lawsuit, which is more likely than not, it will also be entitled to attorney's fees and other legal costs incurred in bringing the legal action. These fees and costs can be substantial."

Carroll said that Friar's letter, which was released to the public during last week's board meeting, showed that Miller was on weak legal ground with her demands for payment from the press before she would release public records and a legal fight would be expensive for Pima County taxpayers.

"I'm just trying to save the taxpayers some money," Carroll said. "Supervisor Miller knows that when she received the memo on the county attorney, this charade had to end. You cannot charge exorbitant fees hoping that people get sticker shock and go away. And you can't take forever to respond to a public records request. And I think it's questionable to allow her to redact her own records. There was a lot of redacting doing on there, willy-nilly, and it was consistently inconsistent."

Last week'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.

In addition to voting to require the release of records created on private devices, the Board also voted last week 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.

"Our current policy stinks," Supervisor Ramon Valadez said. "More importantly, it does not work."

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