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Pima County staffers call Administrator’s raise request a slap in the face

The Board is set to vote on a four-year contract Tuesday
Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry at a meeting in July 2017.
Posted at 3:53 PM, Jan 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-17 23:16:54-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Upset, disappointed, frustrated -- that’s how some Pima County staffers are describing County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry’s request for a raise during the pandemic crisis. The Board is set to vote on a four-year contract Tuesday.

But a handful of staffers are coming forward -- anonymously -- out of fear of retaliation. They say Huckelberry’s decisions in the midst of the pandemic has at times put the public at risk and the board’s vote on his contract should be at least delayed.

The six employees are from the Pima County Criminal Justice and Health Departments. They're expressing frustration at the County Administrator’s request for a 4% bump in his base salary from $302,000 to $315,000.

"A slap in the face to those who are struggling," Employee 1 said.

"The big slap in the face is that the last seven months the Pima County Employees have tightened our belts willingly and happily," Employee 2.

"Just the optics of it. This is a rough time for everybody," Employee 3 said.

"Just kind of sent me over the edge," Employee 4 said, "He obviously feels entitled enough to think he deserves more when none of the rest of us do."

"It was just a low blow," said Employee 1.

Huckelberry declined a request for an interview Monday from KGUN 9.

Pima County staffers at a 'breaking point'

This comes as the employees say the county has dealt with hiring freezes and furloughs.

The staffers say many employees are burning sick time and paid time off while some are working without critical resources like headphones, webcams and upgraded laptops.

The raise may be a drop in the budget bucket, they explain, but the well has run dry and they’ll take any drop they can get.

"It’s the difference between a part-time administrative assistant who may be able to assist in handling those calls to the public," Employee 5 said, "It’s the difference between being able to give the libraries a little bit more money when they’re asked to take a furlough leave. The librarians started a GoFundMe page to help them out in the midst of the pandemic."

"It’s insulting and it’s demoralizing," Employee 2 said, "The financial burden should be shared and it starts at the top."

"There’s nothing wrong with being an at-will employee like the rest of us and I think that’s where it was the breaking point," Employee 1 said.

It's a breaking point nearly a year in the making.

One health department staffer says they're working tirelessly -- some 50 to 60 hours every week -- to do everything they can with the resources they have, but they’re stretched very thin -- mentally, physically and financially -- since they have the lowest average salaries among all departments.

"I feel like we’ve gotten so little, we have gotten nothing and really be used and abused for the past year at least," Employee 4 said.

"I'm seeing people quitting, burning out, getting sick at work," Employee 6 said.

COVID outbreak among Pima County employees

And they're getting sick because COVID is spreading at work.

A December memo from Huckelberry reveals a significant rise in COVID cases across all departments, including the Health Department.

They say the spread could have been avoided and fatigue reduced if Huckelberry allowed more staff to work from home.

“The world has moved on and works differently now and he has not been able to recognize that, particularly along the issue of allowing people to work from home," Employee 3 said, "We have all the technology. We have the ability to do this and he made it incredibly difficult for us to do our jobs. He's not allowed most of the staff to telecommute.”

The Dec. 8 memo shows only 10 percent of the 7,000 employees telecommute. The staffers say they felt slighted after Huckelberry said publicly that employees could not be trusted to work from home.

“County Employees were too lazy to be trusted to telecommute,” Employee 2 said.

And they blame Huckelberry for putting their health and safety at risk.

“I mean occupational hazard is huge in the county right now and the county’s obligated to address this but refuses to fix it,” Employee 6 said.

"It’s all very discombobulated and we have an organizational chart that’s completely inaccurate and doesn’t reflect the work that’s actually going on," Employee 4 said.

'A toxic organizational culture'

The staffers blame Huckelberry for putting they public’s health and safety at risk.

One staffer says, for example, the Health department has an antiquated system to track COVID testing, tracing and resources. Staff has tried to go up the department chain to get an upgrade, which is delaying their ability to efficiently service the public, especially during peak times on the COVID timeline.

"I really think that Mr. Huckelberry has created a toxic organizational culture that’s crippled the Health Department’s capacity to respond to this pandemic," Employee 1 said, adding that it was "absolutely" impacting the safety and health of the public.

The six staffers say they’re upset Huckelberry — himself — does not follow the county rules. A picture shows Huckelberry maskless, seemingly less than six feet apart from a health department leader during a remote, all-staff meeting during the holidays.

"He can’t even wear a mask, which is county policy," Employee 6 said, "If you don’t wear a mask you can be disciplined up to an including termination or dismissal."

Another staffer says “These policies and laws are designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and ease our overburdened and exhausted health care system. They lay out serious consequences for those who fail to wear face masks. He personally does not take the dire situation of our community seriously. The public and County employees need a County Administrator they can trust, who practices what he preaches, and who sets an example to follow."

Now the six staffers who spoke to KGUN 9 says they've lost confidence in Huckelberry’s leadership to get them through this crisis. They agree Huckelberry has been a strong administrator during favorable years, but they now believe he may not be the right person for the job anymore. They’re urging the board to delay the vote on his 4-year contract and review his performance, which would include employee and public input.

"His inability to be in touch with where his employees are is ultimately the greatest failure of an administrator that any organization should ever have," one of the staffers said.

"We’re tired of feeling alone. We’re tired of feeling like the County Administrator doesn’t care," another staffer said.

"I just don’t want to work for this administration anymore," said another.

The six staffers have provided us with details to support their statements. We’ve shared some, but not all, because it would compromise their anonymity.

We are diving into all statements and following any developments, including Tuesday’s scheduled vote.