On Tuesday, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry deftly threw Supervisor Sharon Bronson under the proverbial bus, after it was revealed that Arizona’s Open Meeting laws were violated as part of a multiple-million-dollar federal grant Ponzi scheme.
While under questioning from Supervisor Ally Miller during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Huckelberry shifted blame for the shift of Operation Stonegarden funds to Bronson when he realized Miller was not buying what he was selling.
In exasperation, Huckelberry told Miller that he understood that his explanation was inadequate, but Bronson was ultimately responsible for ignoring a vote of the Board on the use of Stonegarden funds.
At the core of the controversy is a vote of the Board on on May 7, 2019, in which the Board agreed to accept the Stonegarden grant. Specifically, the Board agreed to accept the grant with $200,000 for humanitarian purposes, and $330,347 to cover indirect expenses associated with the administration of the grant. The proposal passed on a 3-2 vote with Bronson joining Miller and Christy in favor.
On June 27, 2019 the county administrator revised this grant application to allocate $530, 347 to humanitarian aid. He then sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security along with the application overriding the May 7, 2019 vote by the Board of Supervisors.
In a July 11, 2019 letter, Huckelberry advised the Department of Homeland Security that the County would “forego the indirect cost recovery this award year, and, instead, seek to apply the $330,347 amount that would have been recovered to the above-referenced $200,000 amount. Therefore, the total modification amount Pima County requests for humanitarian aid is $530,347.”
Miller placed an item on the agenda to discuss the July 11, 2019 Huckelberry memorandum on the Tuesday Aug. 6, 2019 agenda. It appears to me that Huckelberry unilaterally decided to override a decision made by the Board of Supervisors. “It is wrong,” said Miller who then asked the County Attorney for a written opinion as to whether Huckelberry’s action was a violation of Open Meeting law. Miller stated, “The public deserves better and this Board deserves better.”
In response to Miller asking how this vote was changed without noticing the public and holding another vote, Huckelberry told Miller that Bronson made the change of terms without authorization while working with the Southern Arizona Border Coalition during one of their meetings. The Coalition is a non-governmental group with no legal authority contrived by a handful of county supervisors in order to give the appearance that unpopular decisions had widespread bipartisan support.
Miller decided to call for a discussion of the matter after receiving a copy of a complaint to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office regarding the alleged Open Meeting law violations prepared by a constituent:
It is my belief that members of the Pima County Board of Supervisors violated Open Meeting laws based upon the July 11 memo submitted by Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry which includes a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
July 11, 2019 Huckelberry letter to DHS:
Dear Ms. Dzbanko and Mr. Seltzer:
Pursuant to your June 27, 2019 email communication, please accept this detailed request for humanitarian aid.
On May 7, 2019, Pima County Board of Supervisors accepted the Federal Fiscal Year (FFY) 2018 Operation Stonegarden (OPSG) Grant Program Award (Subrecipient Agreement Number 180403-03; Project Title: “OPSG Overtime-Mileage”) subject to a number of conditions. One of these conditions indicated that up to $200,000 of the FFY 2018 OPSG grant to Pima County be used for humanitarian aid for asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children and families with children on the southwest United States border. Another condition required maximum recovery of indirect costs to also be used toward humanitarian aid for the same target population. The maximum indirect recovery amount for this grant award is calculated by Pima County as 28.58% of the personnel costs of the FFY 2018 OPSG grant or $330,3471. However, since Pima County has been informed by Arizona Department of Homeland Security (AZDOHS) that indirect cost recovery will be difficult to operationalize with only five months remaining on the performance period of the grant, Pima County will forego the indirect cost recovery this award year, and, instead, seek to apply the $330,347 amount that would have been recovered to the above-referenced $200,000 amount. Therefore, the total modification amount Pima County requests for humanitarian aid is $530,347.
During a public meeting in May, the Board voted to accept the Operation Stonegarden grant with 2 conditions 1) $200,000 would be used for humanitarian purposes, and 2) $330,347 was to cover indirect expenses associated with the administration of the grant. In his July 11 letter to DHS, Mr. Huckelberry states:
As you can see, the total cost for providing asylum seeker services exceeds what was originally requested from a portion of the OPSG grant, or $200,000. This is primarily because, at the time of our request, we never envisioned the County Juvenile Justice Complex being used as a 24-hour, 7 day per week, 52 weeks a year substitute facility for the Benedictine Monastery. Our original estimate assumed most, if not all. of the funding would go to our faith-based community partner, Catholic Community Services. Because of this, we will ask for the full projected cost of humanitarian aid and will, for this funding year, forego our indirect expense reimbursement request. As you recall, our Board of Supervisors approval of Operation Stonegarden deducted both indirect expenses and humanitarian aid from the overtime request of the Sheriff. If this request is approved, the Pima County Sheriff will still receive the same overtime allocation approved by the Board. Furthermore, no overtime funding is authorized for the-Sheriff until the humanitarian aid request is fully approved.
The Board never reconvened to change or otherwise provide direction to Mr. Huckelberry to make this demand. It is obvious, and the most reasonable conclusion is that the Board of Supervisors conducted a meeting outside the public view to redirect the money.
I request that the Arizona Attorney General’s Office investigate this matter with urgency in order to protect the future federal funding for public safety efforts in southern Arizona.