During the lengthy Call to the Public portion of the Pima County Board of Supervisors February 6, newly-elected Chair Richard Elias seemed flummoxed by the refusal of Picture Rocks activist Albert Lannon to leave the podium after demanding a response to the complaint he filed with the BOS on January 2. Lannon had charged, pursuant to the Pima County Regulatory Bill of Rights, that the BOS Chair investigate and rebuke County Administrator Charles Huckelberry and his staff for “adversely affecting” he and other residents by championing an Avra Valley route for Interstate 11 in violation of BOS own policy, Resolution 2007-343. He said he was there to insist on a response.
Elias claimed to have no knowledge of the complaint, which was originally addressed to then-chair of the Board Sharon Bronson with copies given to the Clerk of the BOS, Julie Casteñada, at Bronson’s direction for distribution to Board members as Lannon addressed them on January 2. Lannon asked if Elias was accusing the Clerk of not doing her job, adding, “I don’t believe that.” He then handed each Supervisor a second copy of the original complaint.
Although he had submitted his request to speak early, Lannon’s three-minute slot was shuffled to the bottom of a long list of speakers, perhaps in an effort to force the 80-year-old to take a bathroom break and miss his turn. “I’m glad I didn’t have that second cup of coffee this morning,” Lannon told ADI, “and it looks like their bladders gave out before mine.” He was called to speak just prior to the BOS taking a break with just a handful of speakers left.
When the BOS returned, Lannon was standing at the podium, joined by Pima County Libertarian Party Chair Christopher Cole, and Elias said he would have to ask him to leave the room. Lannon said he was there to get an overdue response. The Regulatory Bill of Rights allows 15 business days for a response. Giving Elias the benefit of the doubt, Lannon said, his 15 days expired on February 2 and Bronson’s long before that. “I was taught,” the activist told the Board, “that a rule, to be a rule, has to apply to everyone equally. If this Board can flout and ignore its own rules and policies, it cannot then impose them on me or anyone else.”
Pima County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Chuck Lopiccolo then moved in and asked Lannon and Cole to take seats or leave the room. Lannon made it clear that his dispute was not with the Sheriff’s Department and a brief negotiation allowed the two peaceful protesters to stand at the end of the first row of seats just three feet from the podium.
At one point during the break Deputy County Attorney Andrew Flagg approached Lannon to ask if he had not received the same response from Flagg that dozens of similar complaint filers had. Lannon assured him that the only response he had received was Flagg’s email from the previous night. A request for information for a media story had been requested of County Attorney media contact Isabel Burruel-Smutzer on January 30 and had apparently been passed along to Flagg.
The Board’s attorney said in his February 5 email only “I have not been authorized to provide any substantive response to your questions….” Lannon told the BOS, “I guess he is the designated black hole my questions have been consigned to.” Those questions, based on earlier Flagg letters to dozens of other complainants written “on behalf of the County Administrator,” included:
“Since the Pima County Administrator and his office are the subject of the complaints, why is Flagg writing on his behalf? The County Administrator acts at the direction of, and reports to, the Board of Supervisors. It would seem inappropriate to address the complaint to the person who is the subject of the complaint, instead of the Chair of the BOS who is the reasonable equivalent of his ‘department director.’”
Flagg’s communication declared that “In any event, the allegations in your complaint do not involve any County ordinance, rule, regulation, substantive policy statement, or county practice.” The question to the media contact noted that “the record is replete with maps, written communications, and justifications from the County Administrator’s office for an Avra Valley I-11 route. Can you tell us how these are not a ‘substantive policy statement or county practice?’”
Lannon did get a chuckle from Chairman Elias at the conclusion of his remarks, saying,“I am 80 years old. I have incurable cancer with brittle bones, along with COPD, heart and kidney disease, a bad back, and hemorrhoids.” Elias’s smile faded as the activist continued: “I have better things to do with my time than stand here and insist on your overdue response, but that is what I am here to do today.”
“No one is above the law,” Lannon told ADI, “and that includes this Board and the County Administrator. I’ll be back.” The Avra Valley I-11 route is one of two being considered by the Arizona Dept. of Transportation’s three-year, $15 million, Tier One Environmental Impact Study. The other is the existing I-10 corridor. BOS Resolution 2007-343, over Supervisor Elias’s signature, opposes any new highway in Pima County and specifically calls for protecting the Avra Valley.
The protest was peaceful and civil save for Lannon’s red hat. That was a Nino the Clown hat from the Zoppé Family Circus, in Tucson last month. “Appropriate, I think,” the veteran activist told us.