Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller looked utterly gobsmacked.
A single word came out of her mouth: "What?"
She sounded as if she could scarcely believe what she had just heard as she sat at the dais with her fellow supervisors during their Feb. 18 meeting.
Miller had been momentarily stunned by a motion from Democratic Supervisor Richard Elías, who had just suggested that the county take more than $872,000 in road repair money scheduled to be spent in Miller's District 1 and move it instead to fix a road leading to several schools in Republican Supervisor Ray Carroll's District 4.
The motion came during a conversation about how the county should spend $5 million in general fund dollars that had been set aside for pavement preservation. The supervisors were discussing how Miller had asked the county transportation staff to move the money from paving major arterial streets in her district—such as River Road and Sabino Canyon Road—to doing major overhauls in a few subdivisions and on other less frequently traveled streets.
Elías at first proposed scrapping Miller's changes and returning to the staff recommendations. But as Miller began protesting, Elías suddenly amended his motion: Instead of doing projects staff had recommended, he wanted the money spent to help fix Colossal Cave Road in Carroll's district. (Earlier in the meeting, Vail-area residents had told the supervisors that a stretch of Colossal Cave Road that included two railroad crossings was particularly unsafe and the Vail School District had offered to kick in $100,000 to help improve the road in the hope that the county would come up with the rest of the funding.)
Miller was shocked at Elías' motion.
"I just cannot believe the actions of this board today," she said. "Taking this money out of my district, out of spite ... Now we're going to be penalized because we criticized the mismanagement of the road money?"
Elías said he wasn't making the motion to punish Miller, a Republican in her first term.
"This has nothing to do with spite," he said. "What I'm trying to do is offer a reasonable way out of this situation, to spend the $5 million that we have in the most intelligent way that we have and make sure that we address arterial issues, which affect all of us, and start to work on a problem that endangers children in the Vail School District."
The motion passed 4-1 and Miller vowed revenge.
"Go ahead and vote on it," she said. "My district will be hearing about this."
After the meeting, the other four supervisors said they didn't take the action to punish Miller, but did it because they thought her priorities—which included subdivisions and far-flung, little-traveled roads—didn't make sense given the bigger transportation problems that Pima County faced. (The details of that story can be found in "Streets of Ire," Page 14.)
Whether you see the transfer of the money as political payback or a smart spending decision will largely depend how you view the county—and you could see it as both retaliatory and a wise budget call.
But one thing is certain: The vote exposed long-simmering tensions between Miller and the other supervisors—and in the days since the board meeting, Miller has been on a tear. She's ripped her fellow supervisors on talk radio, demanded that Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne investigate them for violations of the state's open-meeting law and even called 911 because she believed a Tucson Weekly report put her very life in danger.
Tension has been growing between Miller and her fellow supervisors for months. She rarely talks with other board members outside of meetings and District 1 staff members typically remain huddled in their office on the 11th floor of the county administration building instead of interacting with staffers from other offices.
Miller, who joined the board in January 2013 after winning election the previous November, opposes her fellow supervisors on several issues. She is the only supervisor to support the proposed Rosemont copper mine, for instance. And while the other four supervisors recently voted in favor of finding a way to raise the state gas tax to pay for more road repairs, Miller has denounced the idea.
But the trouble between Miller and her colleagues runs deeper than differences on policy. Miller delights in running down her fellow supervisors on talk radio and via her Facebook page, frequently complaining that they mismanage the county's budget and waste money on pet programs. She is such a spending hawk that she objected last year to allotting $3,000 to help cover the cost of sending Mission Manor Elementary School fifth-graders to a science and engineering camp at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
Just two weeks ago, Miller said the county was wasting money on relocating Hughes Access Road near the Raytheon plant, which would not only help the region's largest private employer but also lay the groundwork for an aerospace-defense hub near the Raytheon plant and provide room for Tucson International Airport to build a new runway. Miller complained that no Raytheon officials had came to the board meeting to support the road's relocation and none had come to lobby her before the meeting.
"One would think that the Raytheon executives who want this road moved so badly would be here in this meeting or would have contacted my office, because I'm one of the people who will be voting on this," Miller said.
County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry acknowledged that Raytheon has made no promises to expand here if the road is relocated, but he warned that if the work isn't done, Pima County could lose the company altogether.
"Moving the road does not guarantee that Raytheon will prosper or even grow here," Huckelberry said. "But not moving it pretty much guarantees that they're under stress with their existing operations and makes it much more likely they would find other alternatives."
Supervisor Ramón Valadez, a Democrat whose southside district includes the Raytheon plant, said that Miller "has consistently voted against the largest private employer in our community."
He rejected Miller's charges that the county is mismanaged.
"When you disagree on public policy, that doesn't mean it's mismanagement," Valadez said. "That means there's a disagreement."
Valadez sees Miller's distance from her fellow supervisors as a dramatic change from the relationship they had with Republican Ann Day, who stepped down in 2012 after three terms.
"I enjoyed a wonderful relationship with Ann, one where we didn't always agree," Valadez said. "But regardless of whether we agreed or disagreed, we could always talk and find compromise. I don't find that the current District 1 office has that same philosophy. They don't talk to anybody."
Board Chairwoman Sharon Bronson, a Democrat, said that when Miller first joined the board, "I reached out to her and at that time, we were communicating. That was short-lived. I've rarely had communications with her beyond the board meetings."
Miller's distrust of her colleagues dates back to when she first took office, according to Josh Brown, who was one of the first people Miller hired.
Miller put Brown, 24, to work on constituent services, but fired him after three months on the job.
Brown remembers that Miller distrusted her fellow supervisors "from the get-go" and expressed concern that listening devices might have been planted in her office.
"She mentioned that she thought the office was bugged," Brown says. "She kind of had a feeling that everyone was out to get her. She was very, very paranoid."