By Chase Kamp
Copper Area News
The new five-member Pinal County Board of Supervisors faced its first controversial piece of business on Jan. 9, a proposal by Sheriff Paul Babeu to move 16 merit employees to at-will status, and voted to hold on a vote until next month.
The proposal would allow the Sheriff to increase his authority over a number of lieutenants and directors from patrol and the jail, who would not be able to appeal any disciplinary actions or firings. These employees would not covered by a written contract or bargaining agreement and the employment could be ended at any time by either the employee or the employer, with or without cause.
PCSO commander Jeffrey Karns retired on Jan. 1 and e-mailed a letter addressed to Babeu to all PCSO staff claiming he would be terminated if Babeu’s proposal was approved.
Karns was set to lose more than $14,000 in salary after the at-will shift, whereas lieutenants in patrol and investigations would get a salary increase out of a jail-improvement fund.
In his email, Karns said the proposal would ruin morale and allow Babeu to appoint political allies.
Babeu told the Board his proposal would improve performance and was within his purview as a department head.
The Board unanimously voted to table the item until next month. Supervisor Todd House said he received correspondence both for and against the measure and requested more time to review the proposal.
The vote was the first for new District 2 Supervisor Cheryl Chase.
Chase served three terms as a state legislator from 2000 to 2006 for then LD 23, which includes most of the Copper Corridor, and then began work as a Community Relations Administrator for Sheriff Paul Babeu at PCSO. It was a job that took her to every corner of Pinal County working with veterans, women’s organizations and domestic violence advocacy groups.
In the spring of 2012, then-candidate for Sheriff Steve Henry approached Chase about a possible run for Supervisor on the new five-member board.
“I was very happy working in the Sheriff’s Office,” Chase said. “I can say I had a possible future political run in the back of my mind, but it wasn’t a top goal. I am very pleased that the voters believed in me to elect me as their supervisor.”
Chase says she is looking ahead to the myriad of matters that will come before the board in the upcoming months. The challenges, the new supervisor said, will be “interesting and somewhat daunting.”
“There are of course a lot of concerns related to growth and public safety,” the District 2 Supervisor said. “I have no doubt I will be a strong voice for all first responders. I understand the issues they face on a day-to-day basis.”
One of the subjects that is key to her district is the expansion of Hunt Highway.
“I am concerned about that road,” Chase said. “I see it as a major safety issue for everyone in the area. This is a priority for me. It seems that every time we have a significant rain, the road becomes flooded. I would like to address that very soon.”