Pima County Sheriff Personnel Shuffle Questions Persist

Pima County Sheriff's website invites public to "Ask Us Anything," but makes no promises about answers.

With the percentage of payroll costs in Pima County at over 45 percent compared to Maricopa County’s at slightly above 43 percent, and Pima County deputies among the lowest paid in the state, questions persist as to where exactly the money is going. County residents would have had a harder time getting answers to those questions if an item related to who is – and who is not – covered by the County’s Employee Merit System had remained on the September 15, Board of Supervisors’ agenda.

That item (view here) was pulled by County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry (view here) because “Human Resources has received varying opinions from affected parties.” According to Huckelberry, “the intent of the item was to revise Pima County Code, Chapter 2.24.070 to meet the legislative changes in Arizona Revised Statute (ARS) 11-352. According to sources, the actual intent was to “high ranking staff taking care of and protecting themselves.”

High ranking staff moving to protecting themselves is nothing new to Pima County. The Sheriff’s Office has perfected that skill and last week, the final pieces were put into place by newly appointed Sheriff Chris Nanos.

Brad Gagnepain, former chief, retired and rehired as Executive Advisor has now been promoted to “Chief of Staff,” a position that has never existed before. In that position, Gagnepain will oversee Community Resources and Internal Affairs.

The irony of Gagnepain, described as obsessively vindictive, overseeing Internal Affairs is not lost on County residents, who know him best for his own lack of ethics. According to the Tucson Citizen, in 1992 “former sheriff’s Maj. Dennis Douglas and Capt. Brad Gagnepain stole campaign signs belonging to Dupnik’s primary opponents. Both men admitted to the theft and it cost them each five-day suspensions without pay. A Justice Court judge later dismissed the misdemeanor charges against them.”

Gagnepain, a double dipper was granted “reserve deputy status” in an attempt to “give him some type of legitimacy,” in his new role.

In that role, he will supervise the son of newly appointed Chief Deputy Christopher Radtke. The younger Radtke moved to his new job in Community Resources, and out of the departments under his father’s control in order to avoid pesky charges of nepotism. According to sources, the younger Radtke took a small decrease in pay, but the new position comes with its own perks.

As for his father, questions remain as to what and how he and Nanos have manipulated through the system to secure his top spot position. According to an email response from Radtke to the ADI on August 11, 2015: “Chief Chris Radtke current salary is $142,894.37. Effective Sept 6 promoted to Chief Deputy Salary of $164,840.00 (same as former Chief Deputy Nanos).” On August 12, in response to his email, the ADI asked why he was allowed to get out of the “drop?”(sic). Radtke did not respond. Last week, the ADI asked again, and added whether he could “confirm for us that you retired within the last month and have been re-appointed as Chief Deputy?” We have received no response to those inquiries.

Records show (view here) that on the Pima County Public Safety Personnel Retirement Board met on Wednesday, September 2, to consider agenda item #4: “Application for Termination and Retirement from the DROP for Christopher Radtke with an effective date of 10/01/15.”

Attorneys Carol V. Calhoun and Arthur Tepfer write on the Employee Benefits and Legal Resource Site: “In its simplest terms, a DROP plan is an arrangement under which an employee who would otherwise be entitled to retire and receive benefits under an employer’s defined benefit retirement plan instead continues working. However, instead of having the continued compensation and additional years of service taken into account for purposes of the defined benefit plan formula, the employee has a sum of money credited during each year of the continued employment to a separate account under the employer’s retirement plan. The account earns interest (either at a rate stated in the plan, or based on the earnings of the trust underlying the retirement plan). The account is paid to the employee, in addition to whatever benefit the employee has acquired under the defined benefit plan based on earlier years of service, when the employee eventually retires.”

Sources report that rarely, if ever, does an employee get out of the DROP.

According to the Arizona Public Safety Personnel Retirement System’s Frequently Asked Questions page Arizona statute A.R.S. 38-849(E-J, M):

Prohibits an “employee from actively pursue reemployment opportunities with, or obtain reemployment assurances from the same employer they are retiring from, prior to retirement. There must be a bona fide separation of service in order to be in compliance with statutes and IRS Code. US Tax Courts have consistently interpreted IRS Code’s definition of “separation of service” as a severance of an employee’s connection and employment relationship with their employer. In order for a severance to occur, there cannot be a pre-existing agreement intent to resume employment at a later date.”

“In order to be able to return to work “in any capacity” with your same employer, you must be retired for one (1) year, UNLESS you are hired as a result of participating in an open competitive new hire process for an entry level nonsupervisory position, or hired as a fire inspector, or arson investigator. If you are hired as a result of participating in an open competitive new hire process for an entry level nonsupervisory position, or hired as a fire inspector or arson investigator, then the sixty (60) day rule applies. Your local retirement board must determine your eligibility to return to work. Your local board and employer are responsible for informing PSPRS within ten (10) days of your re-employment date, and must submit to PSPRS the minutes of the local board meeting in which the return to work determination was made, copies of your old and new job descriptions, and an affidavit signed by you and by the employer, stating that there was no “pre-existing” agreement for you to return to work at the time you retired. Form 16, Return to Work Acknowledgement, will serve as the retiree’s affidavit for members retiring effective August 2012 and going forward. Failure to follow the return to work statutes 38-849, informing PSPRS within ten (10) days of the re-employment, and failure to provide the required documentation will result in suspension of your retirement pension.”

Because Radtke refuses to answer questions, it is unclear as to whether 1) he did in fact retire, 2) was successful in removing himself from the DROP, and 3) if he did retire, how was he hired back in less than a year after his retirement.

Most assuredly the Office will respond with answers in the near future. Until then, Department morale continues to plunge as employees witness others reap the benefits of family ties either though the management of cafeteria operations, or the Office’s internet presence.

Nanos’ leadership team is referred to as the “Clan of Five” by employees, who are unhappy with the “continued abuse of power by a small group of people.” They say leadership’s decision to “take care of themselves first,” will “undermine the professionalism of the Department” because “the Sheriff and his leadership display this kind of unethical and self-serving behavior.”

One employee said the final outcome will be employees who “eventually lower their level of professionalism as the standard set by the leadership erodes.”

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