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El Chisme

Constable Ferguson reporting for duty

Star scribe leaves journalism beats for mean streets

The Arizona Daily Star newsroom got a little bit sleepier on Tuesday, as longtime political reporter Joe Ferguson became a politician himself, trading his pen for a gun. Or at least a keyboard and notebook for a stack of eviction orders and a post as a law enforcement officer.

Despite accusations of "a political favor" and some loud profanity from supporters of the other potential appointee, the Pima County Board of Supervisors named him as a constable in what was soon to be a vacant position in Justice Precinct 9.

Ferguson, a government and political reporter at the Star for nearly seven years, will take up his new duties on Feb. 1, when Colette Philip's retirement becomes effective.

He was tapped to fill the elective office on a 3-2 party-line vote by the Board. Because the partisan post must legally be filled by someone of the same political party as the elected officer leaving the position, the supervisors were required to choose a Democrat. Ferguson, previously registered as an "independent" non-party voter, re-registered as a Democrat last month to seek the appointment.

Constables are elected peace officers who serve criminal and civil court orders — such as evictions and orders of protection —within their individual precincts. JP 9 extends from Grant Road on the north, taking in the area between Interstate 10 and Campbell Avenue, southward to the north edge of Sahuarita. The precinct dodges Downtown, but includes the city of South Tucson and a large swathe of semi-rural area between Interstate 19 and Sandario Road.

Ferguson's appointment was assailed by Supervisor Ally Miller — who, like the rest of the Board, has been a frequent subject of Ferguson's journalism — during Tuesday's supervisors' meeting.

"We're using these appointments to give a political favor to somebody," said Miller. "There's no doubt in my mind."

Chairman Richard Elias, who had moved to appoint Ferguson, swiftly interrupted, saying that was "an extremely ugly accusation."

Miller said she favored the other potential appointee, George Camacho, an employee of the Constable's Office, calling him "well qualified."

"I'd like to point out that the other applicant has been a deputy constable in this district for 18 years," said Miller, one of the two Republican supervisors. "Mr. Ferguson has no qualifications in this area."

Camacho, who has filed to run for the office and solicited signatures on nominating petitions, has repeatedly called himself a "deputy constable," in his campaign announcements and his application to be appointed.

Camacho does not hold that law enforcement post, several county sources said. His title with Pima County is "special staff assistant." Camacho, who has worked for the Constable's Office since 2002, also acts as a private process server, outside of his county duties.

Camacho told TucsonSentinel.com that he was appointed as a deputy constable in 2004. State law provides for elected constables, with the approval of the county supervisors, to appoint as deputies individuals who are certified by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board.

Sources within several county offices have indicated that Camacho is the subject of an ongoing human resources investigation into sexual harassment allegations, and has been previously subject to disciplinary action — information he didn't happen to mention in his letter asking to be appointed. Because they were not authorized to release that information, those sources each requested anonymity.

Camacho denied that he was the subject of a sexual harassment investigation, calling reports of it "hurtful and untrue."

Arizona law makes it a crime to impersonate a peace officer or public servant, but that's limited to instances that involve "conduct with the intent to induce another to submit to the person's pretended authority or to rely on the person's pretended acts."

The vote in favor of Ferguson's appointment was met with an outburst from Camacho's family and Miller supporters, including a shout of "bullshit!" and Camacho's father loudly accusing Elias of being a "pinche vendido" (fucking sellout).

Elias rejected Miller's claims of Ferguson's appointment being a "political favor." Acknowledging that he's been as much the subject of the reporter's digging as Miller or any other member of the board, Elias said, "She is not right."

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Supervisors Ramon Valadez and Sharon Bronson, both Democrats who voted for Ferguson's appointment, brusquely denied Miller's claims.

"No," said Valadez when asked if they had merit.

"My vote was not a vote that did anyone any political favors," said Bronson. "I voted for the person who was most qualified for the job based on the research I had done."

"It's one of the busiest precincts of all of them," she said. "We needed somebody in there... there were only two candidates who applied."

Supervisor Steve Christy said he wasn't terribly impressed with either applicant and planned to vote against both of them, but rejected Miller's claims.

"I don't know where the favoritism from a Star reporter would come into play with politicians," he said after the vote. "I would think there were times there were disagreements that my Democratic colleagues had with him."

For his part, Ferguson shrugged at the accusation, both physically and verbally.

"I've been called worse things in that room," he said.

Miller has often included Ferguson in her frequent attacks on local reporters. In 2018, she took to Facebook to mock him for being photographed while blinking during a Board of Supervisor's meeting, sharing a pic of Joe Ferguson "of the Red Star" — which had been posted by a worn-out sockpuppet for one of her coterie of backers who graces public meetings with nearly silent but purportedly deadly commentary — with either his eyes closed or downcast, looking at his phone while placing an audio recorder behind him.

Saying the "Taxpayer Watchdog was Asleep on the Job," the Republican supervisor then commented that "He may have had one too many of the Pothole Filler Imperial Stout Beers brewed with black strap molasses."

For her own part, Miller posted last month on Facebook, complaining about the probable length of an upcoming call to the public at a Board meeting. "Wake me up when it's over," she said, asking "Anyone have a pair of those glasses with the eyeballs?"

Whatever the cause of his weariness that day, Ferguson will likely be toasting his recent fortunes with a healthy slug of Pappy Van Winkle.

And you'd think Ally'd be so happy about getting Joe off her back that she'd start casting about for a cozy sinecure for Jim Nintzel, too.

While visibly irked by the accusation of betrayal ("What, I'm supposed to vote for the other guy because he's Mexican? I've been fighting against that sort of attitude my whole life," Elias said after the meeting), the board chair was smiling as he congratulated Ferguson.

"I believe in change happening in the Constable's Office," Elias told TucsonSentinel.com. He explained that he was impressed by Ferguson's expressions of support for changes in eviction procedures being piloted by Constables Bennett Bernal and Kristen Randall. The latter, appointed last year, has spearheaded early notifications for people being evicted, so they have time to seek new homes and leave in a more organized manner instead of being pushed onto the street at the last minute before a legal deadline.

Ferguson said he became interested in serving while observing Randall's work while teaching his Reporting Public Affairs students at the University of Arizona School of Journalism over the past year.

He told his editors at the Star about his interest in being appointed, and was quickly shifted away from reporting on government and politics to avoid any conflicts of interest.

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"Every constable is bound by statute to carry out the will of the court, but within those rigid laws and policies there is room to express the humanity and values that we should all convey when we meet someone on what might be the worst day of their lives," Ferguson said in his letter applying for the post. "Within what is mandated, their (sic) also lies the ability to educate, advocate and carry out the work with compassion and an eye toward better outcomes for everyone involved."

The constable in JP 9 will be elected this year, so Ferguson will have to run for the office to keep it.

He said he would file his election paperwork later Tuesday, having won the three votes necessary for the appointment to the $67,000 job.

Camacho has already filed to run for the office; he did so prior to requesting the appointment. Philip's upcoming retirement and the need for an appointment was previously announced by the county, but no one applied for the position so it was reopened in December. Ferguson and Camacho were the only applicants who submitted letters of interest and resumes after that second announcement.

Ferguson's departure is another blow for the shrunken staff at the Star. A longtime member of the boards of the Arizona Press Club (and its past president) and the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona, he was a 2018 winner of the Press Club's Sledgehammer Award, a "tribute to journalists who relentlessly seek the truth, smashing through obstacles thrown their way."

Prior to his work at the Star, the Wisconsin native and UA graduate was a reporter for the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff.

Miller drops bomb in replacement race

While Miller has announced that she's not running for a third term, she's still carrying some weight in the race to succeed her in District 1.

While a trio of Democrats — Rex Scott, Jeff Farrell and Brian Radford — have filed to run, the district covering Marana and Oro Valley is heavily Republican.

Seeking the GOP nod are: current Oro Valley Town Councilwoman Rhonda Pina, seen as the more centrist choice; former state legislator Vic Williams, who sources said was seeking Miller's endorsement — Williams is being backed by Republican activist Jim Kelley; and Bill Beard, a former staffer for Miller and ex-chair of the Pima County Republican Party who jumped into the race last week.

But Miller passed over endorsing either Williams or Beard just after her former staffer entered the race. Instead, she's backing the candidacy of Steve Spain, a sometime blogger for the Arizona Daily Independent (the site, pegged as the "Ally Defense Initiative," that's run by another staffer in Miller's county office) who worked with the D1 supervisor to oppose to past county bond issues at the polls.

Spain was on hand to observe Tuesday's proceedings, sitting with ADI honcho Lori Hunnicutt, who was known to submit stories on her "independent" blog for review by Miller's office before posting even before going on her payroll.

Hidden figures

The Pima County Republican Party is continuing its winning formula of holding congressional debates as covertly as possible.

Monday evening, the GOP aspirants in CD 2 appeared at the Mountain Oyster Club. Reportedly, there are seven candidates now running, although anyone attempting to name more than three or four would be flummoxed.

In the last election cycle, a similar CD 2 debate was held at the private East Side club, advertised as "open to all Pima County Republicans." Nonetheless, a registered Republican reporter working for TucsonSentinel.com was turned away at the door, with organizers citing a "no media" rule as they handed him his $7.50 admission sealed in an envelope.

At least that's what it seems to be; the envelope remains sealed, sitting on his desk.

That "let's not tell anybody about our candidates or what they think" strategy didn't pay off in 2018, as the GOP lost the seat to Ann Kirkpatrick.

In a repeat, Monday's debate was again behind closed doors. "If you are not a Republican voter within CD 2, we will not be able to accommodate you. If you aren't on the RSVP list, you will be turned away," an email from the Pima GOP said. "As a reminder, there will be no media allowed at this event," it stated in bold text.

Most candidates scramble for attention from the press. Very few are begging to be ignored.

Another Billy Who, Where?

Also launching his campaign a bit too low-key, or at least low-info, was Billy Peard. The former ACLU attorney and first-time candidate wants to take a seat in the state House of Representatives. But you wouldn't know in which district, or even for which party, if you read his campaign website during its first week.

Peard's now letting people know a bit more prominently that he's seeking a seat in LD 2, as a Democrat.

Also running in the Dem primary for the two available House seats in LD 2, which stretches from the South Side of Tucson down into Santa Cruz County, are incumbent Rep. Daniel Hernandez and Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, who's termed out in the state Senate and working to stay in the Legislature with a flip down to the lower chamber.

We'll see how things add up in that race.

Submit this for an IRE award

Let's not have Ferguson be the most-awarded journalist in town, folks. Somebody make sure that the recent investigation by KVOA weekend weatherman Daniel McFarland into complaints about an old school bus being fixed up are submitted for every reporting award contest possible.

Paint. My. House.

In other Pima business, the Supes shifted a contract for the repainting of Veterans Memorial Overpass (where Palo Verde crosses the Union Pacific tracks) from the winning bid of about $355,000 to one that had a couple of technical errors but was $60,000 cheaper. A third bid came in at nearly $900,000.

The burning question here isn't so much whether a minor paperwork error should cost a company a job (and the taxpayers a decent year's salary), but why it costs so goddamn much to paint a bridge.

A couple of your Chisme scribes will get out there with a Wagner power sprayer for $200 per day, plus expenses. As long as the gig ends before it gets hot.

About some of your Chisme crew: Nobody knows Tucson better than Hugo O’Conor. After all, he founded the place. A. Nonie Maus needs little introduction, as she’s everywhere and nowhere, always. Kchryystjgeyån Gärbøjhé-Phyrr likes shining a light into dark places, but needs to brush up on her Latin. Dylan Smith’s some guy who borrowed a notebook. Got a juicy bit of info? Keep those cards and letters coming: chisme@tucsonsentinel.com


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Jan 17, 2020, 7:57 am
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So my comment was posted, then deleted.  Sentinel censorship.  And all I said was that it looked like Ferguson’s appointment was a done deal since he changed his voter registration from Independent to Democrat a month before the BOS meeting—according to the above story.  Seems the Sentinel is part of the crony corruption that infects Pima County,

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Joe Ferguson, whose fingers will soon have more gun oil than newsprint on them.

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