When Arizona Governor Doug Ducey approached successful businessman Tim Jeffries about coming to work in his administration, he offered him several departments from which to choose. Jeffries, who rose from poverty during his teen years, insisted the position as Director of Arizona Department of Economic Security was the only directorship he would accept.
Jeffries’ devout faith, memories of a challenging childhood, and the murder of his beloved older brother Michael formed the basis of his approach to his new role that he often called a “vocation.” Professionally and personally shifting in a mere three days from a publicly-traded global information services company into a massive and dysfunctional government agency should not be easy. However, given the very specific marching orders from Ducey, Jeffries’ transition was remarkably smooth. It wasn’t until Jeffries started to do exactly what the Governor had ordered him and other agency directors to do, that things turned south for him.
Ducey’s instructions included figuring “out a way to eliminate the worst 10% of any category” of employee in the department, and using the “personnel/civil service reforms passed by the Brewer administration to manage your agency,” according to documents. Those same documents advise: “If there are employees who are clearly under-performing and ill-serving the taxpayers, then take steps to replace them with someone who will do better.”
In accordance with the Governor’s directives, Jeffries cleaned house. Of the approximately 7,600 employees, Jeffries and his revamped leadership team fired close to 200 employees, some of who were rightfully described as “bullies, liars, racists, ‘harrassers,’ slackers, and multi-year bad actors.” In total, approximately 500 employees left the agency during its revitalization from 43 years of broken bureaucratic culture. That amounts to little over 6 percent. Ducey’s mandate was 10 percent.
Not many people make enemies of over one hundred “bullies, liars…bad actors” and survive. Yet, in October 2015, the often hyperbolic Laurie Roberts of the Arizona Republic wrote a fairly flattering piece on Jeffries. She noted that of the employees fired by Jeffries, “not a single one had sued.” She quoted Jeffries’ description of the employees as a “collective stain on the honor of the noble mission of DES.”
“And when he learned that DES had 31 employees who had been with the agency for more than 30 years, he sent them thank-you notes.
“This guy doesn’t sound like any government bureaucrat I’ve ever seen.
“And yes, if you are wondering, that’s a compliment.”
For Roberts, who has few kind words for anyone; that was high praise. Numbers bore out the fact that the praise was warranted.
Not long before Jeffries was asked to resign (better yet, summarily fired) by Ducey’s notorious henchman, Kirk Adams, an agency-wide DES employee survey showed that since 2014 prior to Jeffries arrival, “Positive Colleague Engagement” had increased 300 percent. It had tripled. The anonymous employee survey also found:
1) DES employees’ “Strongly Agree” responses had increased by an average of 31.0% from September 2014 to November 2016.
2) DES employees’ “Agree” responses had increased by an average of 19.5% from September 2014 to November 2016.
3) DES employees’ “Neutral” responses had decreased by an average of 17.2% from September 2014 to November 2016.
4) DES employees’ “Disagree” responses had decreased by an average of 50.0% from September 2014 to November 2016.
5) DES employees’ “Strongly Disagree” responses had decreased by an average of 71.7% from September 2014 to November 2016.
Making enemies one powerhouse at a time
While thousands of DES employees were more than satisfied with “The New DES,” Jeffries made enemies of powerful people. Under his leadership, former Rep. Ceci Velasquez was prosecuted for food stamp fraud. Her Legislative District partner, Sen. Martin Quesada, tweeted, “good riddance to bad rubbish” when he learned that Jeffries had been fired. For a moment, the powers-that-be were satisfied.
It is widely known around the Capitol, that Jeffries’ firing also likely thwarted an investigation into another State lawmaker, who appeared to have misused their parent’s financial resources to illegally fuel their re-election campaign.
Jeffries had also made the huge (perhaps, fatal) mistake of rescuing former State Senator Leah Landrum-Taylor from the Department of Education. Landrum-Taylor, an ambitious woman known for her sugary-sweet approach to political throat slitting has bounced around Arizona government making friends with the likes of Adams and enemies of public servants who know what those words truly mean. According to two sources, Landrum-Taylor complained bitterly about Jeffries behind his back and was widely believed to have openly coveted his job despite the kindness and respect he showed her.
Adams is best known for running one of the ugliest political races in the history of Arizona against Rep. Matt Salmon. Adams lost that race and went on to head up the dark money group Americans for Responsible Leadership. Americans for Responsible Leadership was fined $1 million by the state of California for dark money violations in a 2012 election and in 2014, Ducey enlisted him for his henchman/Chief of Staff role.
On top of all of that, Jeffries is a devout and vocal Roman Catholic, and is unashamed about his faith and his First Amendment rights. The Secular Coalition of Arizona (SCA) despised Jeffries, even more so when Jeffries would not bow to their will for a meeting. The “freedom from faith’ groups are organized and often deadly. Jeffries’ demise was methodical and nothing – especially a positive public relations monster like Ducey – would stop it.
Missteps, mistakes, and lies
Near the end of Jeffries’ tenure, Arizona Republic reporter Craig Harris supposedly threatened the Governor’s Office that he would come out with article after article about Jeffries until he was exited, according to an insider in the Governor’s office. Many of the claims made in the cutthroat articles were either ridiculously exaggerated, or patently untrue.
From claiming that Jeffries ordered that public records be withheld, to the claim that an ailing employee was fired just before she was to retire, Harris was either misled, or was simply incompetent. Jeffries is adamant that under no circumstances would he order records be withheld from the public. The employee in question was not eligible for retirement for five years, and was also fired for cause.
The truth rarely matters in the world of politics. The truth is; Jeffries made some rookie political mistakes, but he made bigger strides for the two million Arizonans DES serves.
Jeffries shouldn’t have authorized his press secretary to hire his daughter as a part-time summer intern for four weeks. The truth is that even if she was imminently qualified – which by all accounts she was – Jeffries should have done what all others in Arizona power do; he should have had a friend in another department give her some part-time job experience. The problem is that it would have been dishonest to do so, and Jeffries is anything but dishonest. He wasn’t looking to give his daughter a full-time job; his press secretary saw a short-term need and a bright kid who could fill it. Is that alone an actionable offense? Maybe. One that should result in losing your directorship and sending a massive department into a tail spin? No, absolutely not; unless it provides the powers-that-be with an excuse to get rid of you.
Another nail in the Jeffries/DES coffin appears to be a malicious claim made by Landrum-Taylor that Jeffries bought alcohol for DES employees while on the job in Nogales. Because, under his leadership, DES offices moved to staggered work hours in order to better serve the working poor, work hours are staggered. Jeffries did, in fact, buy some food and drinks for his colleagues, but it was on his own dime and their own time. Every client in Nogales was served that day.
The final nail in the Jeffries/DES coffin appears to be Jeffries move to transfer armed security for DES employees and clients at over 30 DES service centers from private security companies to government security guards in response to the San Bernardino terrorist massacre. Jeffries was passionate about protecting his “beloved colleagues and treasured clients” from domestic and international threats. He was apt to say, he had “seen enough murder in my life, and I will do everything in my power to prevent more of it.” In the privatize-at-all-costs mentality of the Ducey administration, making over 50 security guards government employees with paid benefits to protect DES employees and clients throughout Arizona was ultimately deemed a “no-no” even though it took place in full view of anyone paying attention to Jeffries highly transparent comings and goings. Harris turned the defensible supply of weapons and ammunition, stored at the Department, on Jeffries.
The sexy headline: About 50 guns, 80,000 rounds of ammunition seized at Arizona DES on day director was ousted, ran above an article that made it sound as if Jeffries was organizing an Arizona militia. Harris made a point of pointing out that “Jeffries, Chief of Staff Clark Collier (a retired Peoria police officer), Inspector General Juan Arcellana and Security Operations Administrator Charles Loftus — all had state-purchased semiautomatic handguns,” on them. Given the fact that both Collier and Loftus, as law enforcement officials, have been armed most of their professional lives, and Jeffries’ brother was the victim of what was described as one of the most brutal murders in Colorado history, Harris’ point was sensational at best. Jeffries, Arcellana and Collier did not carry said weapons. The hand guns were retrieved at their respective residences.
The poor lose and the powers win again
Of course, Adams was on hand to watch with glee as DPS officers escorted Jeffries and his top staff from their offices the day before Thanksgiving. Ducey wasted no time installing Henry Darwin, a long-time government employee with the Department of Environmental Quality before joining Ducey’s inner circle, as the temporary head of DES.
Is Tim Jeffries perfect? Absolutely not, and he is the first to say that. Was Tim Jeffries a really good combination of businessman and government employee? Yes, without a doubt, Jeffries unselfishly and enthusiastically brought his lifetime of service and success to the public’s service. Jeffries, a self-avowed “poor kid from East Sacramento,” brought his life experiences, and what has been described as “heartfelt passion and Christian love to DES in a way that DES employees had never seen,” let alone ever experienced.
Jeffries visited every location and site at DES throughout Arizona, an unprecedented feat that will probably never be equaled. More often than not, Jeffries never left a DES location or site until every question was asked, and an answer was provided or was promised for later, according to sources. Jeffries often made big and small decisions purely based on input from his 500+ employee meetings, gatherings and town halls. Unfortunately, Ducey is a little man who despises any negative PR, and Adams is always ready to stoke the flames in order to be the hero that puts them out.
Because it was widely known that Landrum-Taylor wanted the top spot and schemed to that unjust end, it is highly unlikely that she will get it. Whoever does win that top spot though, one thing is certain: the poor lost a passionate champion and courageous leader in Jeffries, and he will be very tough to replace.