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Note: This story is more than 5 years old.

What the Devil won't tell you

Ally Miller's lack of discipline exposes taxpayers, undermines GOP

How can a vanishing Facebook post be worth $75,000?

Brandon Patrick may have just scored the fastest and easiest settlement in the history of any lawsuit against any local government, anywhere in the world.

The Democratic activist is set to sue Pima County because — no joke — Supervisor Ally Miller deleted his Facebook comments and blocked his ability to write on her official social media page in apparent violation of state public records laws and his freedom of speech. Now he's pushing to force Miller to allow him to post again, and is asking for $75,000 in damages. I find it hard to believe the crafters of the state law intended for an Arizonan to score quick cash over deleted online comments but such is the changing nature of public discourse and public records.

While a vanishing Facebook comment could be worth $75,000 once it's been sent down the Orwellian memory hole, what Miller's inability to pick her battles has really cost is the Tea Party's chance to completely take over the Pima County Board of Supervisors.

Patrick's suit still has a ways to go. He filed a notice of claim, which is a warning to the county that a suit is coming. The county has 60 days to respond — or not — and then a formal lawsuit can be filed. The county hasn't yet responded.

And Miller knew better. Different rules govern an official social media page from a personal or campaign one. Miller was told by county officials that she wasn't to censor Facebook comments on what is legally a public forum. She seemingly did so anyway.

Others have also claimed that Miller has censored their speech on her office's Facebook page. Patrick is just the first to hire an attorney and press a case over it.

This isn't Miller's first difficulty with records. She was told this summer she was expected to release electronic public records to TucsonSentinel.com in compliance with the law. While county staff have provided some documents, Miller still pretends that she does not use her personal email and social accounts to conduct public business, and has stonewalled for months on providing many requested records.

At some point, Miller's disdain for the law and refusal to follow it might just meet Arizona's elevated standards for punitive damages. I can't say that the day is now and that Ally Miller is going to put Brandon Patrick into a Porsche 928 S4, but it's coming ... 

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Full disclosure: I know Patrick. He and I worked as the team that took on Proposition 200 back in 2009 and then started an abortive public relations business. I can tell you this much. He's smart. He and I kind of went our separate ways on good terms but I guarantee you, dear reader, that he is laughing his ass off over this. It can't be this easy.

That's fine. This column isn't about Patrick. This column is just straight-up advice to the Republicans from the dreaded liberal press (me). Y'all gotta start thinking strategically. Miller would rather skirmish than campaign. She will let her adversaries choose her battles for her just by bawking like a chicken in her general direction. She gets played like a Stradivarius at the first sight of a bow. And yet, she had a chance to make a big stand.

It was 11 months ago, that I and others saw a very real possibility of Miller taking over complete control of Pima County. Fellow Republican and arch-enemy Ray Carroll was facing another primary challenge from his right and all across the country, these challenges have proven successful. Carroll beat one back in 2012 but that was before he went to war with Miller, a favorite Tea Party soldier. Marla Closen was a Miller ally. Closen could have won the primary and cruised to victory in an overwhelmingly Republican district. While Kim DeMarco still may knock off Democratic incumbent Sharon Bronson in the county's one swing district (which has a registration advantage for the Dems), Miller and her posse could have had a 3-2 edge on the board.

Miller also stood alone on the board against Pima County's proposed bond package, which enjoyed broad support from Tucson's powers that be. Miller bet against the bonds and proved to be the voice of the people as voters rejected each and every one of them.

A change election was coming and Democrats had been in charge of the Board of Supervisors for 20 years. Tucson's economy had been lagging the national recovery. The voters weren't in a mood to buy what the county majority was selling.

The Allyverse that could have been

That was the opening Miller needed to bring Tea Party sensibilities to power over a county government representing a solidly Democratic electorate.

Miller had a year to bring the spotlight on her and her ideas. She had a seat on the Board of Supervisors representing about 200,000 county residents in the Catalina Foothills and on the Northwest Side. That gives her legitimacy and a bully pulpit. Miller was set to be the lone dissenter on key county issues and that gave her the equivalent of a power amplifier with what politicos call "earned media."

That's the press.

It's a joke among the county political class that no one can write a story about the Tucson City Council without a quote from Councilman Steve Kozachik. That's because Kozachik can stand against the rest of the Council and anyone who does that gets a free quote. Also, Kozachik's reservations are almost universally well-founded based on a legit read of the issue.

Miller could have acted similarly, attracted the spotlight with a pounding critique of Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry and the board majority that supports him.

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What's more she could have used her mind-meld with voters over the bonds as an opportunity to engage voters with a vision for Pima County that changed course after 20 years of Democratic control. She could have held open community forums to bounce ideas off of voters and get ideas from them.

Finally, she could have worked the press. County elections are held during presidential years when all seats in Congress are up for re-election. This year, U.S. Sen. John McCain was going to face U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick in a slugfest. Breaking through that kind of main-event-style chatter was going to be hard with paid advertising to rouse voters about a local race.

She needed to get her work done in the press, which meant making friends.

So what did Miller do?

Opportunities Lost

She allowed a fight with Closen to tear that alliance asunder, and Closen lost to former car dealer Steve Christy in the District 4 Republican primary. Christy's on record as opposing a contract renewal for Huckelberry, but he's unlikely to be marching as closely with Miller as Closen would have been.

Miller then blew up what could have been a minor personnel issue when a staffer started an odd sham news website (for which he solicited other candidates' comments on Miller's support for the idea to use Regional Transit Authority funds for road repair), turning it into a federal case. Literally. She and staffer Timothy DesJarlais denied he had anything to do with the purported "Arizona Daily Herald," and filed a complaint with the FBI claiming that another local Republican had stolen his fake online identity (paging Jim Falken).

Miller then girded for war with the press over public records requests regarding what the heck was up with her employee and the Herald. It didn't go well for her, with some in her own party seeing a parallel with Hillary Clinton's emails because Miller was found to have done county business on her personal accounts as a way to, perhaps, avoid public records law. The state Attorney General's Office is probing Miller's actions in handling documents.

Among the machinations revealed when DesJarlais released some records of his behind-the-scenes communications with Miller was that she had secretly worked with the Goldwater Institute to bring a suit against the county over the World View deal. Miller told the public she hadn't talked with the right-wing legal beagles, while bragging in private to her aide that she had worked on the suit for months.

DesJarlais and other former employees released documents and statements that showed Miller to be, as the ex-aide said, "paranoid," with claims that there were listening devices planted in her office walls.

Meanwhile, she faced down a primary challenger. But even though John Winchester got a late start and didn't hit Miller hard enough or early enough, he still gave her a race, with the first-term incumbent winning 13,800-10,300.

This is how Miller took opportunity and killed it execution-style by the side of the road. Through all of this, she's been egging her Tea Party supporters on with the claim that the only reason she's being criticized is that she's got the county powers exactly where she wants them. Go Ally, go.

No doubt, her supporters see this column as an attack on her because she is onto all of us. We're not trying to tear her down. You gotta be up to be torn down. She's pre-deconstructed.

Leadership, or something like it ...

What seems to be the dirty little secret about local politics is that too many Republican activists here have no interest in power. They just want to feel aggrieved. Miller's hunker-and-fight posture pleases the hell out of the Tea Party crowd. The system is rigged and the press is out to get them. It's all they need to know.

Never mind the raft of Republicans, pre-2010, who had perfectly professional relations with the media. We're talking Jon Kyl, Jim Kolbe, Randy Graf, et. al. For the Love of Christmas, even the border vigilantes returned phone calls. Hint: It doesn't matter if the press agrees with you. They just need your quote. The power flows both ways.

What I'm saying is that Miller could have taken the mantle of leadership. Leaders aren't aggrieved. They aggrieve. Leaders aren't afflicted. They afflict. They don't flee meetings. They own the meeting. They don't bar the press from their supposedly public events. They get free publicity from a free press. And to paraphrase "The Departed," leaders aren't products of their environments; their environments are products of them.

Two weeks ago, I bitched about Gov. Doug Ducey packing the Arizona Supreme Court. I've bitched about a lot of things Ducey has done. But `I can't say the guy isn't sculpting events and dominating the state's politics.

Former Gov. Janet Napolitano didn't cry like a baby about how the Legislature was mean to her or moan when the newspaper reporter covering her turned out to be a conservative strategist. She picked her shots and molded the state as much to her liking as possible.

Huckelberry took over as county administrator — a re-imagined position weaker than what had been the county manager job — and didn't complain about how the board clipped the wings of the post he assumed. No. He worked the job to suit him and now is the most powerful political leader in Southern Arizona.

That's how it's done, Supervisor Miller.

Instead, Miller just keeps putting the county in legal jeopardy over something as innocuous as public records laws, and as basic as constitutional rights, while invoking the same laws to "prove" a conspiracy against her between the media and Huckelberry to bring her down. Her own unprecedentedly voluminous public records searches have revealed that the county communications director, in fact, communicates with the media. And that we often aren't buying what he's got on offer. Go, Sherlock, go!

Evil, aggravated or within the scope

Leaders pick their battles and choose the terrain that bests suits them to fight those battles. They understand that to defend everything is to defend nothing.

Meanwhile, Brandon Patrick's claim is just another case of Miller failing to follow the law because people she doesn't like tell her to. County lawyers had warned her not to mess with her official Facebook page, and all she had to do was nothing when Patrick commented on her wall. Just let it go. But Miller can't.

So the question concerning punitive liability for the county is this: Did Miller's deletion of the Facebook comments amount to "acting within the scope of her employment." If your official lawyers tell you not to do something and you do it anyway because "screw you, that's why," does that action fall outside the scope of your work?

Then there's the multi-faceted test for how much punitive damages a court can award. It involves, swear to God, the evil-hand-of-an-evil-mind test and whether the action was the result of "aggravated, outrageous, malicious or fraudulent" motivations.

Let the courts decide that.

It's ridiculous anyone is even talking about a deleted social media comment costing the county $75,000. Even if it just results in a settlement that parks Patrick on a beach sipping rainbow-colored cocktails, it's kind of egregious. It's just not as egregious as the fact that Patrick has a shot at it because Miller can't control herself.

She stonewalled when the media hit her up with public records requests, as she demanded a redonkulous sum of money for the documents — a move that the County Attorney's Office repeatedly told her was illegal. She's still pretending that she doesn't use her personal email, text messages and Facebook to instruct her staff, although everyone is perfectly aware that she's done so.

Now she's messing with public information again. She's aware her lawyers are telling her she's breaking the law. She just does it anyway.

If Miller spent the brainpower on uniting 51 percent of the county behind her, rather than looking for ways to stick it to "the elite," she'd be leading the elite.

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Miller likely won't be punished on Election Day. She represents a fairly Republican district and Republicans seem to groove on the idea that they are victims. They are likely to re-elect her. (Unless Democrat Brian Bickel somehow pulls off the upset of the year.)

Just don't look for the Miller Revolution. That required a leader.

Point is, Republicans, that the job is still vacant and there for the taking.

Blake Morlock covered Arizona government and politics for 15 years, including 11 in the Tucson Citizen. He also worked on Democratic Party campaigns in the field of political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.

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2 comments on this story

Nov 6, 2016, 4:03 pm
-1 +1

There is just something so clearly wrong about Miller. Maybe she should speak to a counselor?

Nov 5, 2016, 9:26 am
-0 +1

Hope there will be focus on good ole boy gifting of taxpayer funds to special interest groups.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Miller walked out of a Board of Supervisors meeting in June as her handling of public records was discussed.


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