Questionable Hires

Former county supervisor and current PCC consultant Dan Eckstrom shrugs off conflict-of-interest allegations

When Dan Eckstrom is asked about possible conflicts of interest involving a contract he has with Pima Community College, the former Pima County supervisor jokes that perhaps he should be happy that people are thinking of him, since he's been out of politics for nine years.

Eckstrom—no stranger to controversy after spending 32 years in politics—said he does not know how his consultant contract with PCC has been approved, but he never thought the process broke any laws, nor did he think there were any potential conflicts of interest.

"I don't know who makes this stuff up, but you know what? At this point in time, maybe they think I'm an easy target," Eckstrom said. "I'm sure that these people will try to go to any means to connect things."

The Tucson Weekly was provided with a report last week that was included in a March 9 request to the state Attorney General's Office to investigate allegations that the college broke state laws and its own policies regarding payments to consultants John Crnokrak and Dan Eckstrom, as well as possible conflicts of interest.

The source who gave the report to the Weekly asked to remain unidentified. A call to the AG's office to ask whether the report has sparked an investigation was not returned as of press time.

The report details various PCC controversies that have already surfaced—namely, the hiring of Crnokrak, reportedly a friend of former Pima Chancellor Roy Flores. Crnokrak reportedly made $300,000 through an employee-coaching contract approved by Flores—a contract never put up for bid, and never approved by the governing board, as required by state law and the college's own policies.

According to the college's purchasing procedures, if work is valued at more than $15,000, a formal bidding process is required. There was also the issue of conflicts of interest, since Flores and Crnokrak were identified as friends. According to the college's conflict-of-interest policy, "Any employee of the college, or relative of an employee, who has a substantial interest in any contract, sale, purchase or service to the college shall make known that interest to the college ... and shall refrain from participating in any manner as an officer or employee in such contract, sale or purchase."

Eckstrom said he was first hired by the college in 2007 and continues to work for Pima as part of a contract "renewed every year," but billed and paid monthly. According to a vendor history included in the AG investigation request, Eckstrom has made $188,222.50 from Pima from 2007 to 2011. Eckstrom continues to work for the college, but vendor reports for 2012 were not made available in the investigation report.

Most of Eckstrom's monthly billing statements ranged from $3,000 to about $5,000. In 2007, Eckstrom was paid $23,222.50; in 2008, $45,500; in 2009, $49,625; in 2010, $45,750; and in 2011, $24,125. The investigation request points out that although the yearly totals are much higher than $15,000, Eckstrom was allowed to bill monthly, meaning each invoice was less than $15,000.

The request for an investigation into the college questioned certain relationships Eckstrom has with college governing-board members, claiming he could be in violation of college policy and state law.

One potential conflict brought up in the report is that board member David Longoria is in a relationship with Eckstrom's daughter, Jennifer Eckstrom, the mayor of South Tucson and an assistant to Pima County Supervisor Ramón Valadez. Longoria is also employed by Pima County as an executive assistant to Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.

Another is that governing board member Vikki Marshall works for Pima County under Eckstrom's brother, Art Eckstrom.

Longoria told the Weekly that he and Jennifer Eckstrom are good friends, but the relationship is strictly platonic.

Regarding Dan Eckstrom's contract, Longoria said his opinion is that nobody else is capable of doing the work that Eckstrom does. "He's a unique character and a grassroots person. ... The (college's) CEO deserves a certain amount of autonomy," he said.

Dan Eckstrom confirmed that part of his work as a consultant for PCC was to lobby the county to place the college's proposed $45 million health-care campus on the next Pima County bond request. "I worked that, yes, but right now, the bond is kind of in limbo because of the audit of Pima County by the state," Eckstrom said.

But Eckstrom said there's no potential for conflict, because he doesn't deal directly with the Pima board members, and his contract didn't go before them for a vote.

"Boy, I tell you what, people are really creative. I don't have direct communication with them. I see them at events. ... You know what I've learned all the years I've been around? People come up with ways to look at things, but that doesn't make it true," he said.

Asked how he got the contract, Eckstrom said it was through a recommendation from the person who last had the contract—Art Chapa, who died in 2010.

Eckstrom said he bills the county $125 an hour for the work he does, and does not tack on other expenses.

The Weekly is waiting to receive copies of all of Eckstrom's billing statements, which were requested last week from the college.

Eckstrom said he typically works with the chancellor's office, but that he has worked with others in the college, too, depending on his assignment. He said he is currently working on the Pima County bond issue and just finished work on the college's acquisition of Roberts Elementary School from the Tucson Unified School District. He said part of his job was to involve neighborhood groups and other organizations. He said he also worked to help the college acquire county funding to keep the college's adult-education program operating.

"I guess maybe because I'm getting older, I just don't worry about these things," Eckstrom said. "I know what I do, and I do it with confidence. Sometimes, that bothers people."

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