A major development on the heels of our investigation into public corruption in Pima County. The Board of Supervisors voted 4 to-1 for a five year review of RICO spending by the Pima County Attorney's Office. RICO funds are seized criminal dollars that become public funds.
A new state law is now in effect that gives all the boards of supervisors across the state the final authority to approve RICO spending by the Pima County Attorney's Office, which had no one watching it. As a result, the Pima County board needed to put a new policy in place.
But there were some issues that the board members tackled before the vote.
A rare moment between two waring sides during the Board of Supervisors meeting. "It's rare that Supervisor Miller and I agree on a topic -- correct?" said Chair Sharon Bronson. "Doesn't happen often," replied Supervisor Ally Miller.
To start, supervisors Ally Miller and Sharon Bronson had an issue with the county administrator's role in the approval of future RICO spending by the County Attorney's Office. "I think there's concern that you get to sign off, Mr. Huckleberry the county administrator, on some expenses without it coming to the board," said Bronson.
Huckleberry said he and the board members have the ability to ask for specific documentation if they feel there are any questionable expenditures.
But Bronson and Miller said the board should have full oversight -- meaning they should see all the expenditures without a filter. "So moving forward we have some certainty in those items that we are approving that they are in concurrence with current federal regulations and state statues," said Bronson.
Bronson took the oversight authority a step further and asked for an independent review of all the RICO expenditures in the Pima County Attorney's Office over the past 5 years. This comes less than 48 hours after we reported on how the County Attorney's Office handled its RICO spending -- specifically funds that went to non-profit agencies. Legal experts raised serious red flags --- pointing to possible violations of the gift clause. Supervisor Steve Christy said the board should give the independent counsel the ability to review every expenditure on a permanent basis and provide the board with its analysis.
Miller wanted to extend the new oversight policy to all law enforcement agencies in Pima County. "My question is the statutes don't preclude the board of supervisors from a more stringent process in other words have oversight over all the them. Given that it was the county attorney's office overseeing 18 years of misuse of funding." Huckleberry said the board doesn't have the legal authority to approve or deny expenditures of law enforcement agencies other than the County Attorney's office. Miller said considering the controversy surrounding the misuse of RICO funds in the Pima County Sheriff's Department and the lack of oversight by the PC Attorney's Office, the law enforcement agencies should welcome the board oversight and voluntarily submit all their expenditures.
Both Miller and Bronson want the board to adopt the stricter federal guidelines rather than the more liberal state laws. Miller said, "We should utilize the most stringent of the rules which are the federal guidelines. I don't know what that would hurt. I just think we do that given what has happened in the last 18 years."
Bronson encouraged the board to lobby the legislature to resolve conflicts between state law and federal guidelines so all the boards across the state have the same set of rules.
The board voted 4 to 1 (with Ramon Valadez dissenting) to adopt the new policy and seek independent counsel to review the Pima County Attorney's Office spending.
We'll keep you updated on any developments.