WTF Pinal County Board of Supervisors?

In a 3/2 vote on this past Wednesday, the Pinal County Board of Supervisors voted to reject a $3.4 million federal grant for improving vaccine equity. Supervisor Kevin Cavanaugh (District 1), led the charge to deny the funding, questioning whether Pinal County had a need for a “vaccine equity coordinator”, which the grant mandated be established. The grant also funded vaccination efforts like mobile vaccine clinics. County Public Health Services District employees were stunned by the move with the director, Dr. Tascha Spears, saying “I just simply would like to note that our public health team is deeply disappointed”.

According to The Arizona Republic, the grant would have come from federal COVID-19 relief funds provided to the state health department. County health services employees commented that the $3.4 million would have funded efforts (over three years) to educate underserved populations about the COVID-19 vaccine and help provide vaccines in underserved communities.

During the hearing this past Wednesday, Cavanaugh asked Spears whether or not her office sought the grant or did they see the grant available and look for a problem? He went on to say that “The questions I’m getting from my constituents are, you know, we have Walgreens, Walmart, (uh, no…don’t believe there is a Walmart in your district Kevin), everybody knows that there are free vaccines”. Dr. Spears responded that Pinal County has many rural areas where folks are farther away from bigger chains like Walmart. Of course, Cavanaugh was not however, swayed by this logic, nor did he obviously care about how the homeless or disabled might access these commercial providers.

Although appearing surprised by Cavanaugh’s move in the hearing, supervisors Jeff McClure and Jeff Serdy voted with him to reject the funding. The chairman of the Board, Steve Miller and vice chair Mike Goodman voted against the rejection.

“It made no sense to turn this down” was the response former Arizona state health director Will Humble (now executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association), provided when asked about the Board’s action. As both Spears and Humble pointed out, the county qualified for the grant due to its social vulnerability index which included factors such as “the proportion of people with disabilities, unemployment rates and the number of single parent households”.

Cavanaugh though, was set on making this about disdain for the federal government saying, “The federal government, the best job they do, is wasting money”. He went on to say that, “this $3.4 million dollar grant would have provided one public health official here in Pinal County, a nurse. And the rest largely would have largely gone to some as yet unknown unnamed contractor”.

Well, let’s hope Kevin, that the the contractor is yet unknown and unnamed because I would expect government procurement rules would have been followed had the grant been accepted. Per A.R.S. 41-2533, that contracts must be decided via competitive sealed bidding (those under $100,000 in value have exceptions). Per A.R.S. 41-2561, Bid specifications are required to “promote overall economy for the purposes intended and encourage competition in satisfying this state’s needs and shall not be unduly restrictive”. Furthermore, under the competitive sealed bidding procedures, a state governmental unit must award a contract to the “lowest responsible and responsive bidder whose bid conforms in all material respects to the requirements and evaluation criteria” set forth in the invitation for bids. There are similar rules in federal procurement.

As a county supervisor, Cavanaugh should be very familiar with state procurement rules and therefor know it is disingenuous to make it sound like there would be no accountability for the grant funding if the Board had accepted it. There would of course be, unless Cavanaugh and his buddies didn’t properly fulfill their duties.

Speaking of fulfilling their duties, what were Supervisors Jeff McClure and Jeff Serdy thinking in voting with Cavanaugh to reject the $3.4 million? In an email afterwards, Serdy told AZFamily.com that he voted to reject the funding “in order to retain local control.” He went on to write “I’m not too concerned that our citizens don’t have access to the vaccine if they want it because it is now widely available for free”. McClure did not respond to the Arizona’s Family request for comment, nor did he respond to an email I sent him on the matter.

I should mention here, that I served on a school board with Jeff McClure for eight years and although there was much we didn’t agree on, I thought he was concerned about doing the right thing for our students and staff. His decision to reject this funding to improve Pinal County’s vaccination rate however, is definitely not doing the right thing for the people of Pinal County, which lags the state, at 56.3% and national at 61.5%, averages for vaccination with only 48.1% of those 12 and older fully vaccinated as of the Board’s vote.

And, according to former state health director Dr. Cara Christ, some of the federal vaccine dollars could go toward encouraging the continuance of routine school vaccinations that declined during the pandemic. “While we’re using that funding to ensure we are vaccinating in an equitable manner, we can use that funding to improve health equity in other arenas as well”, Christ told The Arizona Republic in July.

I don’t for a second believe Supervisors Cavanaugh, McClure and Serdy rejected the $3.4 million because it was the right thing to do for the people of Pinal County. Rather, I believe it was a purely political decision meant to appeal to their voting base. After all, when booster shots are authorized, or children under the age of 12 are approved to receive the vaccine, where will the money come from to help implement those additional protections?

Again, Pinal County Health Services District Director Dr. Tascha Spears said,

In Pinal County there are some communities who are underserved, who don’t have access to COVID-19 vaccines. So this is specifically to facilitate that, so that communities everywhere truly do have a choice about whether they would like to receive the vaccine or not.

That’s the thing see. If you don’t know what your choices are, or you can’t access the choice you’ve made, you have no choice at all.

corruption and greed

Greed Fueling Arizona’s 48th Ranking for Anti-Corruption

We currently have many crises in America, but one that affects our ability to deal with them all, is the crisis of confidence in our public institutions. Some might argue this lack of confidence is fueled by those seeking power and profit via privatization of said institutions. Whether manufactured or organically grown, the lack of accountability and transparency among public officials is no doubt contributing to the crisis.

In 2015, PublicIntegrity.org ranked the Arizona Legislature 22nd in the nation for state government accountability and transparency. And although the scores are not directly relatable, a 2018 report by the anti-corruption Coalition for Integrity, ranking Arizona 48th in the nation, leads me to believe we are not headed in the right direction. The Coalition’s scorecard is called the “States With Anti-Corruption Measures for Public officials” or “S.W.A.M.P. Index”. It “analyzes the laws of the 50 States and District of Columbia regarding the establishment and scope of ethics agencies, the powers of those agencies, acceptance and disclosure of gifts by public officials, transparency of funding independent expenditures and client disclosure by legislators.” This is important said the Coalition’s CEO Shruti Shah, because

“There is a strong link between an ethics regime and trust in government—and state laws are the first line of defense against corruption.”

Unfortunately, Arizona state laws are lax when it comes to school choice, once again earning the state a #1 ranking for a favorable privatization environment by the conservative bill mill American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). According to its website, the Report Card on American Education is

“part of its mission to promote limited government, free markets and federalism.”

Note that accountability, transparency and ethical governance, are not mentioned. ALEC exists after all, to support legislation favorable to the corporations that finance their work and influence. Instead, the ALEC report card discusses private school choice, purchasing power, flexibility, and freedom. Hey, I like freedom as much as the next gal and served 22 years in the military to help preserve it. But as the saying goes, “freedom isn’t free” and it isn’t maintained by just the ultimate price that some have paid, but other “costs” such as rules, laws, responsibilities and accountability without which, we would have anarchy.

The “A” in Arizona doesn’t yet stand for anarchy, but there are those lawmakers who evidently don’t see a problem working around a few ethical conflicts of interest to benefit themselves at our expense. At least the Arizona Constitution prohibits lawmakers from employment by state, county or city governments, with the exception of serving as school board members, teachers or instructors in the public school system. Where lawmakers act ethically, this exception can help ensure we have those with educational experience helping shape educational policy. Where that is not the case however, unethical actors interested in self-enrichment, can take advantage of a system that doesn’t hold them accountable.

Take for example, Senator Yarborough who termed out in 2018. For many years now, he has run a highly profitable Student Tuition Organization (STO), while sponsoring the majority of legislation expanding the diversion of state income tax liability to STOs. Likewise, According to the AZ Republic, Representative Eddie Farnsworth (now President Pro Tempore of the Senate) profited greatly on the sell of his charter school business (the one built with taxpayer funds) to a nonprofit company after voting for legislation favorable to the non-profit’s board members. In addition to the $13.2M from the sale, he will earn $478K on a loan he made to the school, another $80K in rent on his building that serves as the school’s corporate headquarters, and a consulting fee. And of course, there are numerous GOP lawmakers who have pushed the expansion of vouchers session after session, without sufficient accountability, despite numerous instances of fraudulent expenditures by parents. At the very least, many of them benefited from campaign contributions for their trouble, from Betsy DeVos’ American Federation for Children and other pro-privatization forces.

And now, the Arizona Republic recently reports that Arizona Speaker of the House, Rusty Bowers,

“was paid more than twice the going rate ($216.62 per day versus $90) for substitute teachers in the East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT)”.

Interestingly, Bowers was EVIT’s director of external affairs (basically a lobbyist) from July 2011 to June 2015 and was paid $62K to $64K per year for this part-time work (double what a legislator makes incidentally.) In conducting an investigation of allegations related to operational and legal compliance concerning the East Valley Institute of Technology“ lawyer Susan Segal found that,

”Bowers had no class roster and didn’t have proper certification to teach his JTED classes.“ She also found that Bowers took it upon himself to scratch out the part of his contract that required certification, and wrote in ”permanent certification of substitute teacher.“

But, as reported by the Capitol Times, the district governing board never approved that change, and Segal noted that, ”there is no such thing as a permanent substitute certification. In another instance, on top of this sentence in his contract:

“If the Legislature fails to fund fully or partially, for any reason, the amounts appropriated for the salary and benefits categories of the District budget, the Board shall reduce pro-rata the total amount of compensation due under this Contract”;

he wrote (exhibiting great hubris in my opinion):

“who gets to decide whether or not the legislature appropriates enough?”

Maybe he thinks it is the AZ Speaker of the House?

Of course, that’s mere conjecture on my part. What is not, is the fact that Bowers has failed to allow even a modicum of increased legislator accountability to move forward this legislative session. Remember former Representative Paul Mosely driving close to 100 mph in a 55 zone, (his seventh time being pulled over for excessive speeding) and then bragging about his immunity to the police officer? The incident prompted Governor Ducey to call for repeal of legislative immunity and Representative T.J. Shope to sponsor HCR 2008 to do just that. Unfortunately Speaker Bowers did not assign it to be heard in any committee, so it is basically DOA at this point. Maybe he figures passing the bill would be a slippery slope toward more ethical governance?

As long as the foxes are in charge of the hen-house at the state Legislature and we don’t hold them accountable for the carnage they wreak, the unethical behavior will continue. After all, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had people ask me how in the hell did Senator Yarborough continue to get away with creating and voting for legislation that personally profited him? My answer is that there was no consequence for his actions. After all, he wasn’t violating any laws or existing ethics standards, and he continued to get reelected. From his perspective, why should he do anything differently?

There is a reason greed is one of the seven deadly sins within Christian teachings. Mahatma Gandhi said,

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.”

We should be able to count on our government to ensure a fair shake for all of us. But, when those governing write and enforce the rules to give themselves a leg up, we need to do our job and give them the boot out. The voters of LD5 did the right thing in voting Mosely out of office in 2018. We need to all do the right thing by demanding ethics standards for our elected representatives at every level and then holding them accountable for not only illegal, but also unethical behavior. Government can work, but it takes ALL of us doing our part.