Death of a Reformer

By Rachel Alexander

Arizona Republican Governor Doug Ducey fired his top reformer last month, Tim Jeffries, who he’d recruited to head the Department of Economic Security in February of 2015. Jeffries came in and cleaned up the agency, firing corrupt employees and improving morale, but once those terminated workers complained to the left-leaning Arizona Republic, the paper went all out to take him down with baseless smears, and the governor eventually deserted him.

With a background in the private sector, Jeffries went about reforming government at the “speed of business.” When Ducey took office almost two years ago, he instructed state agency directors to reduce their agencies by 2 percent. Jeffries is probably the only agency director who accomplished that goal, terminating 475 employees and eliminating some of those positions. Prior to Jeffries’ arrival, DES had become a bloated agency, the second largest in the state with over 7,000 employees and several hundred temporary workers and high-priced contractors.

Jeffries had the Arizona Attorney General’s Office bring charges against a corrupt state legislator who fraudulently obtained $1,726 in food stamps. Democratic Rep. Ceci Velasquez “falsely claimed she had two dependents, gave a false address and allowed two other people to use her food stamp benefit card.” A grand jury indicted her on three felonies for welfare fraud. The investigation had started under Jeffries’ predecessor, but went nowhere since he was afraid to touch it. Why are elected officials above the law? No Arizona public official had ever been investigated and prosecuted for food stamp fraud prior to Jeffries’ directorship. The AG’s office eventually caved, letting her plea to a mere misdemeanor charge and probation. Velasquez plans to run again for the Arizona House in 2018 after her lone misdemeanor clears.

Velasquez’s friend, Democratic Sen. Martin Quezada, launched a Twitter firestorm bashing Jeffries and defending Velasquez, predicting Jeffries’ demise. Jeffries set up a meeting with Quezada about the situation, but for well over an hour, all Quezada could do was act as an apologist for Velasquez. He talked about her lower income level and the poverty of her constituents, and claimed she was being targeted. Jeffries responded, “The only people that DES targets for investigation are those who steal from the poor. I’m not a policymaker, I’m a policy implementer. So if you and your elected colleagues want to pass a law that allows members of the House and Senate to have food stamps they’re not entitled to, then you pass a law to do so. Until then, DES will investigate anyone and everyone who rips off the poor.”

Once the media decides it doesn’t like you, it throws a bunch of accusations together with the words “controversial” and “scandal.” Craig Harris, a reporter with the Republic, is known for putting together sloppy paragraphs with a flashy headline, repeating the same baseless claims over and over throughout multiple articles. Additionally, the Republic suffers from a failure to separate between news and opinion articles. Republic opinion writer Laurie Roberts, also known for her hit pieces on conservatives, tag teamed with Harris against Jeffries. She became increasingly hyperbolic with her histrionics, titling one column “Booze Before Blood.” It was a cruel jab at Jeffries, because she knew fully well that one of the men who killed his brother drank alcohol before killing him.  

The paper piled on Jeffries and his revamped management team for firing 475 employees, accusing him of terminating employees who didn’t deserve to be fired. Yet none of this reporting addressed the specific reasons the former employees were terminated, including the fact most of the employees were at-will employees and only one of them had sued the agency over it. The Republic and other newspapers could not stand Jeffries blunt-spoken style; Jeffries did not hesitate to call some of the fired employees “bullies, liars, racists, sexual harassers, and multi-year bad actors.” Instead, the biased articles discussed how many of the employees were women, seniors, and minorities even though the percentages released were in line with DES employee statistics.

The reality is there was a lot of unseemly, unethical and criminal activity taking place. After Jeffries was terminated, an employee emailed him, “I want to thank you for your selfless service to all employees, clients and taxpayers during your time at DES. It was obvious to most employees how you gave back and touched many people with the true intent of helping the poor and those who serve them. I’ve worked at DES since 2008 and believe me the agency as well as anyone who has ever paid taxes owes you a debt of gratitude. Most of those a**holes that got fired were stealing from the poor or manipulating those who bust their a** to serve them.”

The Republic is now sympathetically covering the attempts of the terminated employees to regain their jobs.

Ironically, Jeffries was fired in part for merely carrying out the governor’s orders — something probably all the other agency directors failed to do. They were instructed in the governor’s “8 Expected Traits of an Agency Director” to “Be wedded to a ‘promote the best; weed out the worst’ philosophy.” They were told, “The Bell Curve is a near-universal phenomenon. Figure out a way to eliminate the worst 10% of any category. … 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.”

Jeffries slashed the case backlog by approximately 60 percent at Adult Protective Services. He increased the percentage of employees who said they were satisfied with their jobs from 62 percent to 78 percent. Positive colleague engagement increased 300 percent. In other words, employee morale tripled. He created a fun, caring work atmosphere. He put together inspiring, lighthearted videos featuring the employees and outlining their accomplishments, often making fun of himself to give his “cherished colleagues” a laugh or two. One observer told him, “My guess is that for the vast majority of your employees, for one bright shining moment, they were somebody doing incredibly important work for an agency that they could be proud of.”

A DES employee told him it’s a shame the public doesn’t know that “you created merit payments, you brought back tuition, you raised wages on the front line and regularly visited staff around the state to address issues for clients and employees alike.” Jeffries describes himself as an “anti-bureaucrat,” telling National Review’s Kathryn Jean Lopez, “I shepherd this agency like a multimillion-dollar nonprofit.”

The Republic extensively covered a series of allegations against Jeffries, but virtually all of them are false. He was accused of compiling a “do-not-hire” list of fired DES employees — but it was really another agency which created the list, the Department of Administration.

He was wrongly attacked for his Catholic faith, which I addressed in a previous article. Government employees do not check their First Amendment rights at the workplace door; when I worked for Arizona State Government, our Bible Study group legally used the email system to schedule our meetings. Jeffries is told he’s bold about his faith, but he says, “I’m just pursuing my faith and honoring my First Amendment rights.”

Leah Landrum-Taylor, a former Democratic state legislator who worked for Jeffries and reportedly wanted his job, told the Republic that Jeffries bought alcohol for employees during work hours in Nogales, but it was a lie; Jeffries has a time-stamped photo of him with Landrum-Taylor in the Nogales DES office after the time she stated the party started. The restaurant visit took place for colleagues after their respective work hours. Every DES client was kindly served that day in Nogales and throughout Arizona. The paper also smeared him for using the “governor’s plane” for the trip, however the three state planes are owned by the Department of Public Safety, and the interagency agreement for DES to use air assets was in place prior to Jeffries’ arrival. Furthermore, other Arizona agency directors use the planes too.

The Republic and other media sources have repeatedly featured DES employee Andy Hall, who Jeffries had terminated shortly after Hall criticized the DES press secretary for emailing employees about his latest disagreement with Jeffries. The Republic didn’t bother to report that “Hall is a know it all, never afraid to challenge, grate and insult people,” a source told me. Hall “sent two insulting emails to the DES press secretary” and ranted online frequently about DES and Jeffries. Regardless, as an at-will employee, no reason was required to fire him.

Prior to Jeffries’ arrival, over 30 DES service centers had armed security guards to protect employees and clients. After the terrorist attack in San Bernardino took place at a social services center for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, Jeffries directed his inspector general to transition the contract guard security force to a newly formed DES Protective Services. This group would continue the paramount mission to protect DES employees and clients. This group would also be better trained and more cost effective, thereby positioning DES to expand the number of service centers with armed protection. The Republic slammed him for implementing this common-sense measure, even though DPS guidelines were followed throughout and the effort to protect DES employees and clients was highly transparent.

This is a classic example of how the left is able to take down the brightest, innovative conservatives; through smears, insinuations and outright lies. Since Jeffries’ departure, many of the significant projects have been halted. It is the poor, disabled and downtrodden who will suffer as government returns to moving at the speed of a glacier, fired “bullies and bad actors” return, and agency morale plummets. The bright shining moment for thousands of DES employees is dimming.

For more information, see Arizona’s Poor Lost When Jeffries Was Axed

Robb: Prop. 123 – what’s best for Arizona schools?

Robert Robb, The Republic | azcentral.com
http://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/op-ed/robertrobb/2016/05/11/prop-123-vote-yes/84191600/

Should getting more money to Arizona schools be this hard?

If Proposition 123 passes next Tuesday, schools will get a lot of additional dough. And quickly.

Schools would get an additional $224 million the very next month, June. And an additional $230 million over the next fiscal year (July 2016 through June 2017). So, a total of $454 million over the next 13 months.

Education organizations representing teachers, administrators, school boards and parents are supporting Prop. 123. The business community has rallied strongly behind it and provided the pro campaign with a ton of cash.

Still, what opponents lack in organization and money they are making up in hot air. And, oddly, their narrative has dominated the public debate and discussion.

The opposition narrative, however, is based mostly on material misrepresentations and wishful thinking about alternatives. So, it’s worth revisiting some Prop. 123 basics.

Why are we voting on this, anyway?

Prop. 123 settles a lawsuit brought by some schools over the failure of the state to increase the base level, the starting point of the basic state aid formula, to reflect inflation for four years following the recession.

According to opponents, the courts have ordered the Legislature to increase the base level by $337 million and the Legislature has ignored the order. That’s a fundamentally dishonest description of the status of the litigation.

At issue is the maintenance of effort requirement in Proposition 301, referred by the Legislature in 2000 and approved by voters. Prop. 301 increased the sales tax by six-tenths of a percent and earmarked the proceeds for education. It also required the state to increase the base level for basic state aid to reflect inflation, up to 2 percent.

The schools filed the lawsuit in 2010. The first Superior Court judge to hear the case found that the Legislature owed nothing. That the people, acting in their legislative capacity, couldn’t bind a future Legislature acting in its legislative capacity.

$337 million or $75 million? That’s the fight

The schools appealed. Ultimately, the Arizona Supreme Court found that the Legislature had to abide by the maintenance of effort requirement. But the Supreme Court didn’t order that the state pay any specific amount. Instead, it remanded the case to Superior Court.

There is now a legal dispute over how to calculate the inflation adjustment. For three years during the 2000s, the base level was increased by more than inflation.

The Legislature says that these supplemental increases shouldn’t count in calculating what is owed today. Since the Supreme Court decision, it has appropriated what it maintains is owed, roughly an additional $75 million a year.

The schools maintain that if the Legislature increases the base level by more than inflation in any particular year, that just ratchets up the base for future inflation adjustments. That yields the $337 million number.

Schools get more in this deal than lawmakers

Another Superior Court judge found in favor of the schools. The Legislature has appealed. Rather than continue to litigate, a settlement midwifed by Gov. Doug Ducey’s office was reached.

Under the settlement, schools will receive nearly $300 million more in annual funding, or much closer to the position of the schools than the Legislature. There’s a reason the schools regard the settlement as a win.

Part of the settlement funding comes from an increase in distributions from the state land trust. The distribution is set forth in the Arizona Constitution. Changing it requires a constitutional amendment. The Arizona Constitution can only be changed with a vote of the people. Hence Prop. 123.

If Prop. 123 fails, the $454 million goes away

If Prop. 123 passes, schools will receive an additional $3.5 billion over 10 years. Of that amount, $2.2 billion would come from the additional distribution from the trust. The state general fund would be responsible for $1.3 billion.

And if Prop. 123 fails?

Here’s what we know for certain. The additional state land distribution will not occur.

As a litigation strategy, the Legislature would probably continue appropriating the $75 million that is owed as it calculates inflation.

The settlement obligates it to appropriate an additional $50 million a year for five years and $75 million a year for the five years after that. That obligation would go away.

The schools would not receive an additional $454 million over the next 13 months.

Other than that, everything is uncertain.

The litigation would presumably resume. How long it would take and what the outcome would be is speculation.

Surplus is gone and tax cuts aren’t enough

The breezy claim that there are easy alternatives to getting schools the same or more money is obfuscation.

The surplus? It’s gone. The Legislature spent it in the last budget, partly on education and partly on other stuff, such as the Department of Child Safety.

Delay tax cuts? According to legislative budgeteers, there is just $124 million in new and phased-in tax cuts scheduled for the next fiscal year. So, that’s $330 million short of what Prop. 123 will produce in the same period of time.

Taxes can be increased. I’m all for it. I’ve been advocating a general fund tax increase since it was clear that the temporary 1 percent sales tax wasn’t going to be an adequate bridge from the recession’s decimation of state revenues.

But the schools are owed a measure of political realism. Should increased funding for them be based on a bet that defeat of Prop. 123 will change Ducey’s mind about taxes or that a Legislature willing to increase taxes will be elected this November? That’s a very bad bet.

Prop. 123 doesn’t stop larger funding talk

And here’s the most perplexing thing about the opposition to Prop. 123: Its passage doesn’t preclude any of the alternatives opponents claim to prefer. Nothing about passage of Prop. 123 prevents the election of what opponents would regard as a better Legislature and governor. Passage of Prop. 123 doesn’t preclude a broader education funding initiative in 2018.

In fact, a broader discussion of education funding is inevitable. The expiration of Prop. 301’s sales tax in 2021 makes it unavoidable.

In the meantime, if Prop. 123 passes, the schools would be getting more money at a time they really need it.

And at a time they have been shortchanged not only by the general fund, but also by the state land trust. Since 2000, the trust has retained rather than distributed $1.7 billion in earnings. Prop. 123 mostly requires the trust to disgorge earnings that the schools should have been receiving all along.

Money goes to public – not private – schools

The schools are both the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and the beneficiaries of the trust. If they think the settlement is fair and increased distribution from the trust is appropriate, shouldn’t some deference be paid to that? Opponents who say continue the litigation or get the money from some other source are claiming they know what’s best for schools better than those who run them or teach in them. A bit of hubris there.

There is a lot of politics in the opposition. Opponents fear that passage of Prop. 123 will enable the agenda of Ducey and GOP legislators to cut taxes and increase assistance to charter and private schools. But they have the analysis backwards.

The settlement appropriates an additional $625 million over the next 10 years from the general fund to public schools based upon enrollment. If Prop. 123 is defeated, that money is up for grabs.

Voting down Prop. 123 won’t punish lawmakers

And then there is the emotional gravamen. For many opponents, Prop. 123 isn’t really a school finance measure. It’s a referendum on Ducey and the GOP Legislature.

In this view, a yes vote means that Ducey and the Legislature are doing a good job on education. A no vote means that they aren’t.

But that’s also massively unfair to schools. Prop. 123 is a school finance measure. If it is defeated, nothing bad happens to Ducey and the Legislature. But the schools lose $454 million over the next 13 months.

Passage of Prop. 123 gets the schools more money and settles a lawsuit. Its defeat guarantees nothing and provides a pathway to nowhere.

Reach Robb at robert.robb@arizonarepublic.com.