Politically Incorrect

Former Tucson Councilman And County Drudge Michael Crawford Tells It Like It Ain't.

By Chris Limberis

MICHAEL CRAWFORD, once the Tucson City Council's Ward 3 seat-warmer and the assistant Pima County public defender who failed to complete a special project he had more than a year to work on, has embarked on a government spending and accountability crusade.

Currents Crawford treated his buddy, John C. Scott, and listeners to Scott's radio talk show to a lecture on what's wrong with county government during a portion of his lengthy appearance on January 18.

Among the 33-year-old former assistant public defender's pronouncements:

  • That the county is nothing more than an inefficient "jobs program" where workers do not do their jobs and for whom there is no accountability.

  • That huge overruns on county projects, such as the Major League spring training complex, are permitted without consequence.

  • That the Pima County Board of Supervisors has a "slush fund" from which members can spend at whim.

Crawford, whom county taxpayers gave $48,960 in annual salary, has been a regular on the Scott show since his abbreviated Council term. Confined to neither city nor county issues, he opined that day about the lessons Tucson and society in general have learned from the late Martin Luther King Jr. and the merits of naming Tucson International Airport for the late Morris K. Udall.

Clearly seeking a much wider audience, Crawford on January 15 tried out for a guest spot on the popular ABC talk show Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher.

Schmoozing with Scott, Crawford reported the tryout "was a lot of fun," despite encountering what he said were "a lot of jerks down there."

More fun, apparently, than work. Crawford was on county time while he preened for the slot on Politically Incorrect and handed off at least one case to a colleague in the Public Defender's Office.

County records show that Crawford did not take personal time for his Politically Incorrect tryout. And a fellow assistant public defender made a substitute appearance for him at a Superior Court hearing.

"A friend of mine, who I had covered for for a month while he was in Germany, covered a case for me that day," Crawford said. "It took two seconds."

Crawford said he used comp time during his television audition. He said he worked the previous weekend to accrue that time off.

Crawford's duel debuts, as a county fiscal watchdog and social commentator, came as county officials, including Administrator Chuck Huckelberry and Public Defender Susan Kettlewell, were struggling to contain costs. The county is facing a $5 million deficit at the end of the 1998-99 fiscal year on June 30. Indigent defense is more than $1 million over budget.

Kettlewell declined to discuss Crawford's media appearances and work schedule, other than to say that as a county department head she cannot baby-sit her workers.

Several sources within the Public Defender's Office said that while Crawford had not generated complaints from the indigent defendants he represented, his support staff deserved the credit. Crawford had a regular case load consisting mostly of those accused of property crimes and aggravated assaults.

Crawford's media plays also came as he packed his bags after nearly five years in the Public Defender's Office. He's now going to work civil and criminal cases from the fancy offices of O'Connor, Cavanagh, Molloy & Jones. Crawford initially resigned effective the day of his Politically Incorrect audition, but changed that to January 22.

Some in the Public Defender's Office said Kettlewell is simply happy to see Crawford go.

Appointed 10 years ago, Kettlewell is the longest-serving Public Defender, a job that has historically produced high turnover. She has seen, from the wrong side, that the best defense can be a good offense. While still a councilman, Crawford met with some members of the Board of Supervisors to bad-mouth Kettlewell.

Some of that behind-the-back criticism came as Crawford, then a Democratic appointee to the northside Ward 3 City Council office, was accommodated with a special work schedule and a special project in the Public Defender's Office.

Fitted with a 30-hour work week, Crawford was asked to develop a computerized evaluation system to rank cases in priority as well as a computerized file of motions that could assist lawyers in the office.

After 14 months, neither task was completed, according to Huckelberry and other county officials familiar with the work.

Crawford insists the work was finished despite the many obstacles he says the county had put in his way. When The Arizona Daily Star reported in 1997 that Crawford failed to do the work, Crawford did not dispute the story.

But he also did not accept responsibility. Instead he blamed county computers and the difficulty in doing that job, as well as his need to handle non-trial legal matters.

Two months later, Jerry Anderson blew Crawford out of the Ward 3 City Council office in the 1997 city primary election.

Now Crawford tells the John C. Scott Show that county officials do not know where the county's money--this year the budget totals $747 million--goes.

The county, Crawford confidently told Scott on January 18, "is a jobs program where nobody does their job and doesn't do it efficiently, and a lot of that has to do with accountability."

County workers and department heads "aren't held accountable."

He complained that "we have supervisors who don't even go to the budget meetings."

The only member of the Board of Supervisors to skip annual budget hearings, Ed Moore, a Democrat turned Republican, left office in 1996. Records indicate no member of the current Board has missed a budget meeting.

Crawford had praise for Democrat Sharon Bronson, Moore's successor in northwest, west and rural District 3. He said he helped her by providing her with copies of the city budget books and "suggested they (supervisors) conform their budget to how the city operates."

But Bronson said she never received city budget books from Crawford and would not have needed his assistance because she was a member of the city's Budget Advisory Committee before taking her spot on the Board of Supervisors.

Crawford also told his Scott show audience that the county "has a slush fund built into their budget so each supervisor can distribute money throughout the year, a contingency fund, but it's a huge contingency fund that they are able to dole out favors to whatever group they choose to do so."

The county this year set aside $6 million in a contingency fund. Though higher than such funds in previous years, a contingency fund is a typical component to city and county budgets. Aside from their own budgets--around $225,000 each--to operate their offices and staffs, supervisors cannot make unilateral spending decisions.

County Administrator Huckelberry, who went out of his way in 1997 to shield Crawford from criticism after the young lawyer failed to complete the Public Defender's Office project, said he doesn't mind hearing valid criticism.

"I take exception with his conclusions," Huckelberry said "They are incorrect and based on false information. He's an uninformed source." TW

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