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."
Miller did not return a phone call seeking an interview for this article—and in fact has not talked to the Weekly during her entire term in office despite numerous attempts to contact her.
My interactions with Miller have been among the most peculiar of my reporting career. Miller stopped talking to me after I wrote a story during her 2012 campaign regarding allegations that she made about the county's transportation budget. Based on some budget documents that she received from an anonymous source, Miller claimed that more than $300 million in the county's transportation budget was unaccounted for.
If true, that would be an enormous scandal—but it turned out that the budget documents Miller was peddling did not include the annual cost of running the transportation department. I tried to contact Miller via email and telephone to discuss that oversight with her, but she declined to get back to me.
Minutes after reading the subsequent article ("Whose Bright Idea," July 19, 2012), Miller jumped onto John C. Scott's afternoon radio show, dismissed me as "dishonest" and vowed she would never again speak to me. Although she didn't cite any specific errors, Miller dismissed the article as untrue during her 2012 campaign.
Miller has kept her promise to ignore me, with the exception of one moment during a 2012 campaign forum at the Loft Cinema when I said hello to her. She mistook me for Arizona Daily Star editorial cartoonist Dave Fitzsimmons and asked if I was still drawing cartoons of her wearing teabags as earrings.
Despite Miller taking umbrage at the Weekly's skepticism regarding her claims of missing funds, she has since changed her story about those transportation dollars. After my story was published, she stopped saying money couldn't be accounted for and started complaining that the dollars were being squandered on salaries for the transportation department staff and repaying voter-approved bonds rather than spent on asphalt to fix the existing streets.
Miller's claims about missing transportation money aren't the only ones she has failed to back up with evidence. Last October, she announced on her Facebook page that developers had told her about pay-to-play scams in the county; in order to get construction permits, they had to pay specific consultants.
"I have been hearing a lot of complaints over the past few years from developers and real estate folks who allege they are being required to hire certain 'consultants' for high fees to get their development plans approved in Pima County," Miller wrote. "I am hearing this from everyone and the roar is getting louder."
Huckelberry responded with a memo that included a list of more than 100 consultants who had worked on projects over the last four years. He said that if Miller was going to make accusations of criminal activity, she might consider informing the county attorney of her concerns rather than broadcasting them via social media.
"These are criminal allegations; and I urge you, if you have any evidence of such, to take your complaints with specifics to the Pima County Attorney," Huckelberry wrote.
In a subsequent radio interview, Miller said she didn't want to name the developers who had made the allegations because they might face retribution from the county. Instead, she promised to take her allegations to the proper authorities (which, she added, did not include Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall because she is too close to her fellow Democrats on the Board of Supervisors.)
However, in the five months since Miller made the accusation, her fellow supervisors say that no one has contacted them to investigate her claims. Huckelberry said he hasn't heard anything either. And—as with her allegations about missing transportation funds—if Miller still believes the extortion is taking place, she has stopped speaking up about it.
Miller's unsubstantiated claims sometimes revolve around what she considers her accomplishments, and sometimes around her perceived persecution. During her 2012 campaign, she boasted that the FBI had begun an investigation into Rio Nuevo after she wrote the agency a letter outlining various criminal violations.
But in a memo announcing that no charges would be filed in the Rio Nuevo matter, the Arizona Attorney General's Office noted that the FBI investigation of the matter began following allegations by two unnamed former Rio Nuevo board members. (And speaking of unsubstantiated claims, the memo also noted that "very little information provided by the initial complaining members of the Rio Nuevo board proved to be either accurate or reliable.") The memo made no mention of correspondence from Miller.
The Weekly is not the only publication that Miller avoids. She is uncomfortable taking tough questions from the Arizona Daily Star as well.
Miller's image as a spending hawk was tarnished by a January Star story that exposed strange expenses in her office budget. While four out of the five supervisors defended their spending habits (Elias spent $350 to gather Facebook "likes," while Carroll spent about $7,000 so he and his staff could travel to gatherings of the National Association of Counties), Miller declined to comment on why she had spent $15,000 to remodel her office, $1,500 on an office desk or $149 for a staff breakfast at Marana's Ritz-Carlton. But after the story ran, Miller appeared on talk radio and said that the reporter who wrote it, Joe Ferguson, was clearly an "agenda journalist" whose work should not be trusted.
Miller is more comfortable speaking with uncritical right-wing radio talk-show hosts such as KVOI 1030 AM's Joe Higgins and Chris DeSimone or Jon Justice and James T. Harris of 104.1 FM's The Truth. (Higgins was one of Miller's biggest boosters during her 2012 campaign and Miller does a weekly segment on Harris' show called "Miller Time.") She posts excerpts of board meetings and her radio appearances on YouTube. (Only a handful of her videos have more than 100 views.) Her favorite online outlet is the Arizona Daily Independent, a website run by aspiring political operative Lori Hunnicutt, who also dabbles in public relations. (Among the expenses cataloged by the Star: Miller paid Hunnicutt $100 for 10 subscriptions to the Independent, which is available free to anyone with access to the Internet.)
So: About that 911 call.
On Friday, Feb. 21, the Weekly published a story online about the street fight underway at the county. It revealed that among the streets that Miller wanted the transportation staff to repave was Oasis Road, which was just one block from Miller's home. The article also included comments from fellow Supervisor Valadez. To illustrate the story, the Weekly published a map that included Miller's home and its proximity to Oasis Road.
Less than an hour after the story was posted, Miller called 911.
Miller told the 911 operator that "Ramón Valadez and Jim Nintzel put my home address and a picture of where my home is located in an article that they just published. ... I'm very afraid for my life because a man had to be removed from my office by the sergeant-at-arms last week."
As the 911 dispatcher began getting information from her, Miller requested round-the-clock Sheriff's Department patrols to keep her safe and asked: "Can you do something about making them take that (article) down?"
The 911 dispatcher responded: "Ma'am, I can't do anything. This is just 911."
The Pima County Sheriff's Department agreed to do regular checks at Miller's house to ensure her safety. Miller got more attention than she was probably seeking after the Star posted a recording of the 911 call online last week and the story scored a link on Fark.com with the headline: "Pro Tip for Politicians: Calling 9-1-1 to tell a dispatcher to pull an article from the newspaper is a not a good use of taxpayer money. Bonus: 9-1-1 call included in article. Double Bonus: Said politician freaks out at detractors in comments section."
Several of the posts pointed out that Miller's address is a public record that's easily found on several county websites. Her address is also listed in the documents that Miller filed with the county when she ran for office and is included in the phone book.
Whether Miller had cause to be "afraid for her life" because of the man who was removed from the 11th floor is yet another questionable claim.
The man in question was Bob Dorson, 61, a longtime local businessman who helped run Dorson's Furniture for 30 years until it closed in 2000.
Dorson says he went to Miller's office following a Board of Supervisors meeting on Feb. 11 because he was unhappy after reading the Star's exposé on Miller's office spending.
"It bothers me when the United States spends a billion dollars building an embassy in Iraq," Dorson says, "and it bothers me that $600 was spent for two nights in Phoenix. If you can't take care of those small amounts, how can you take care of the big amounts?"
Dorson said he asked to see Miller, only to be told she was in a meeting. Instead, he met with a Miller staffer who told him Miller couldn't meet with him but they'd answer his questions via email.
Unsatisfied with the response he later got from Miller's office, he returned the next day and was told again that Miller was in a meeting and couldn't see him. He said he'd wait, suggested he might call the media to let them know about how Miller was avoiding him, and sat down in the lobby. Before long, four security guards and a sheriff's deputy arrived and told him he had to leave. He says he was told he was "acting in an angry way and becoming belligerent."
Dorson said he never even raised his voice during his visit to the county building and that being escorted out by security was a first for him.
"I've never been asked to leave a place before," Dorson said.
The day after she called 911, Miller turned to her friends at the Arizona Daily Independent to help her spin the story about paving the road in her neighborhood.
The Independent published a story claiming that Pima County was actually retaliating against Miller's supporters by stopping the repair project before it got to their homes.
The county's jurisdiction, however, stopped at the Marana town limits; the eighth of a mile of Oasis Road that remained unpaved is within Marana.
The Independent article also included a (since removed) picture of Miller sprawled out on the street. It claimed that the website's photographer snapped the photo after Miller tumbled to the ground after tripping on one of Oasis Road's remaining potholes.
"While Miller was out on Saturday investigating the reporter's claims and meeting with ADI, she fell after tripping over a gaping road hole in the vicinity of her donor's home," the Independent reported.
Huckelberry was so concerned by what he saw that he sent a letter to Marana Town Manager Gilbert Davidson.
"The attached Arizona Daily Independent article discusses Supervisor Ally Miller falling in a pothole in Oasis Road and includes a photograph of the incident," Huckelberry wrote. "Since the Arizona Daily Independent is an online publication with limited exposure, I thought I should bring this matter to your attention so you could consider making the appropriate repairs, as well as provide this information to your Risk Manager, given the article's implications regarding liability."
Miller is just 14 months into a four-year term, so it remains to be seen how her battle-against-corruption narrative will play among voters if she decides to run again in 2016. District 1 includes Marana, Oro Valley, the Casas Adobes area, the Catalina foothills and the Tanque Verde Valley. Voters there are among the county's wealthiest, best-educated and best-organized residents.
Before launching her campaign for the Board of Supervisors, Miller dabbled in politics. She co-founded the Pima County Tea Party Patriots and launched an effort to recall Bronson that went nowhere.
She won the District 1 primary with just 38 percent of the vote. The remainder was split among Mike Hellon, a former Republican national committeeman and head of the Arizona Republican Party, who got 32 percent; former state lawmaker Vic Williams, who got 21 percent; and Republican campaign operative Stuart McDaniel, who got 9 percent.
For all of her odd behavior, Miller has her defenders. Tucson Metro Chamber President and CEO Mike Varney said last week that he finds Miller to be "refreshing."
Although Varney didn't agree with Miller's vote against helping Raytheon with the Hughes Access Road relocation, he said he appreciated her support for the Rosemont mine and her willingness to challenge Huckelberry.
"Any public policy maker who lends that critical eye, lends that alternative voice, lends that 'Plan B' or 'gee-did-we-think-of-this' kind of thinking to things is almost always healthy," Varney said. "Otherwise, you get a unanimous rubber stamp."
Miller still has her supporters among District 1 neighborhoods. Donna Heidinger, who works with the La Cañada/Magee Neighborhood Association, said she thought it was "unspeakably horrific" that the supervisors transferred road funds from District 1 to District 4 last month because District 1 roads are in dire shape.
But Heidinger said that Miller might find it hard to be an effective supervisor because of her tendency to hammer on her fellow board members.
"Those three Democrats have the power," said Heidinger. "I have never seen a point in being terribly confrontational."
Other District 1 residents are not happy with Miller. Radio talk show host Emil Franzi, a longtime political operative who has worked in county politics for decades, says he "resents her behavior in public office."
"I live in District 1," said Franzi, who has advised both Carroll and Bronson in the past. "I have a county supervisor who is so wrapped up in herself that she is attacking all of her colleagues—including a Republican colleague—and calling them names and calling them corrupt and making all kinds of accusations that she can't support. And then she wonders why they take away all of her road money."
Hellon, who is not one to speak ill of his fellow Republicans, said that Miller has "poisoned the well" on the 11th floor.
Hellon doesn't buy Miller's repeated allegations of county corruption: "She talks about it, she rails against it. But everything she points to, every single time, going back to the FBI investigating Rio Nuevo, what happened? Nothing. The auditor general coming down to audit the bonds and all this nefarious stuff she claimed was going on. What happened? Nothing. It's all smoke and mirrors with her. ... She has harmed herself and District 1 an awful lot with these ill-conceived, erroneous accusations of misconduct on the part of people who are simply doing their job. If there's one thing she's alleged about corruption or misconduct that turned out to be true, I'm unaware of it."
Hellon said little had changed since Miller was throwing around bogus claims on the 2012 campaign trail.
"Not withstanding her claim to have a master's degree in finance or something, she has no understanding of politics, apparently no understanding of the financing of government operations and she apparently doesn't want to spend the time to learn," Hellon said. "She hasn't learned a damn thing."