Pima County supervisors vote against Rosemont, bike claim questioned

The issues before the Pima County Board of Supervisors ran the gamut from attempting to deny area residents good paying Rosemont Mine jobs, to the public’s questions about a Pima County employee’s bike accident claim. The County’s tradition of picking the economic winners and losers in the area was on full display in the often heated meeting.

In a 4 – 1 vote, the Board voted to issue a formal objection to the Forest Service in an effort to stop, or at least delay, the copper mine located in the Santa Rita Mountains.

In a memo by County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, he claimed the project’s proposed mitigation and monitoring measures were “woefully inadequate.” However, as Jonathan DuHamel noted in his article entitled Pima County still trying to scuttle Rosemont mine, “woefully inadequate” is okay and passes muster, when it applies to a favored County project.

DuHamel continues, “In a previous article on Pima County’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan (SDCP) I wrote:  ‘At a public meeting on March 22, 2001, Dr. William Shaw, head of the County’s Science and Technical Advisory Team (STAT) said of the team’s data, ‘biological knowledge is woefully inadequate, a sentiment echoed by each speaker, and by a peer review committee which evaluated STAT’s work.’ Nevertheless, the County proceeded with the plan.”

As a staunch advocate for high paying jobs and defender of private industry, only Supervisor Ally Miller voted against the objection.

The County has until February 14 to submit their objections to the Forest Service. If successful, Pima County will remain in the top ten poorest regions in the country. The Pima County public relations team did not answer the question posed regarding what their alternative plan was for the development and/or facilitation of new jobs, which would generate the tax revenue they so avariciously seek.

Despite the poor economy, the County has deep pockets, and one County resident expressed her concerns that if the supervisors were to settle a claim by a County bicyclist, the pockets would eventually be empty.

The taxpayer, Gerri Ottoboni, carefully presented her concerns and questions to the supervisors in the matter of County employee Martin Willet. Willet, through his wife’s law firm, is seeking $5 million for himself and $1 million for his wife after he was injured in a bicycle accident in June 2013.

Ottoboni advised the supervisors that on July 31, 2013, Willett, considered the second most powerful man in Pima County second only to Huckelberry, retired from Pima County effective August 10, 2013. Willett was rehired 3 days later on Aug 13, 2013, to work 19 hours per week and is currently employed as the Deputy Chief County Administrator.

Ottoboni noted that according to his claim filed against Pima County on Dec. 18, 2013 , Willett has had multiple major surgeries. She said, “According to this claim, and I quote from page 3, ‘His injuries are described as catastrophic, permanent and disabling.’

“How could he possibly be working during this time when he had all of these surgeries and rehab on these catastrophic injuries?” asked Ottoboni. “In the claim, Mr. Willet admits he was looking to the left in preparation for a turn onto a bike path after he crossed the bridge. This appears to be negligence on his part for not paying attention to his surroundings and riding in a slow and safe manner in preparation for this turn. The claim states he was not speeding …how do we know that? No police report was filed. No witnesses were there, and I assume with injuries as described, Mr. Willett would have little if any memory of this incident.”

“Also, the claim states Pima County had been notified of these dangerous conditions on this bridge numerous times by a Pima County employee named Matt Zoll,” continued Ottoboni. “These reports were filed during Mr. Willet’s tenure as the number 2 man in charge of Pima County. He was the Chief Deputy County Administrator at that time. Is he not responsible for the lack of action for repairs on this bridge? He was an agent of the county and he failed to get this bridge repaired. In the claim, it states the county should have acted upon this. Where were Mr. Willett and Mr. Huckelberry …asleep at the wheel?”

Ottoboni asked, “Where is the accountability? Why hasn’t the transportation director been fired for this lack of action regarding these very dangerous conditions? On page 2 it states…Mr. Zoll had been notifying the county engineer for YEARS regarding the dangerous conditions of that bridge, and that his warnings were ignored. Where was Mr. Willett …Where Was Mr. Huckelberry? They were out building bike paths all over the county spending millions of dollars while ignoring this supposed extreme dangerous condition. They need to be held accountable for their inaction on this …Should they not?”

“While we all sympathize with Mr. Willett, he himself …chose to ride his bicycle that morning; he assumed the risk all bike riders assume riding the dangerous crumbling streets of Pima County and as Chief Deputy administrator, he should have been more aware than most of the hazardous conditions of the roads in Pima County,” said Ottoboni. “Do we need to cancel all future bicycle events such as El Tour de Tucson?”

Ottoboni echoed the sentiments of many Pima County residents scrambling to survive in the county’s poor economy. “On page 5, it talks about he and his wife planning to enjoy retirement without financial worry …don’t we all wish for that? This was a horrible accident and Mr. Willett took a risk on his own with knowledge and recognition of the dangers of bike riding and if he didn’t know, he certainly should have been aware of these complaints filed by Matt Zoll …these employees all report up through the chain of command, and Mr. Willett was number 2 in command and also a close personal friend of Chuck Huckelberry. Settling this lawsuit and awarding this outrageous claim will set a precedent that will open Pima County to the risk of numerous lawsuits in the future.”

Ottoboni suggested that the Pima County Board of Supervisors should remove themselves from reviewing Willet’s claim “due to an obvious close relationship with Mr. Willett” which constitutes a conflict of interest. “I think this should be moved to another county board of supervisors for review and judgment to eliminate the appearance of impropriety,” demanded Ottoboni.

Ottoboni instructed the public on how the County operates: “For those who don’t understand the process …this will be reviewed by the board of supervisors in a closed executive session and then a majority vote will rule in terms of damages that will be awarded to Willett.”

Ottoboni then offered a photograph of Willet taken at the January 14, 2014, Governor’s State of the State Address held in Tucson. Ottoboni said, “According to those who attended, Mr. Willett walked in unassisted and is shown seated here in his chair.”

Shortly before Ottoboni’s testimony, Willet left the Board meeting and according to witnesses, he left under his own power without any assistance.

Video courtesy Keith Van Heyningen:

The supervisors have spent a great deal of time trying to take cheap shots and score political points in what should of been a very simple matter:  clarification of the bylaws for the County’s Fair Commission.

To view the Huckelberry memo, click here

To view Willett’s resignation letter, click here.

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