NAVAJO COUNTY — Navajo County’s going slowly, steadily broke.
The number of employees has dwindled 16 percent, its vehicle fleet is breaking down, it has to skimp on road maintenance. Last year, the county ran so short of money it abandoned the county attorney’s effort to help spouses collect child support from deadbeat parents.
During the recession, the county lost millions of dollars in tax revenue, compounded by the shift of millions in state responsibilities to the county. This forced the county to cut its $43-million general fund to the bone, according to Assistant County Manager Bryan Layton.
So how would creating a jail district funded by one-third of a cent increase in the sales tax help avert the need to cut staff by another 20 percent?
After all, we definitely don’t need more jails.
So how will a jail district help?
It just doesn’t seem logical.
That’s pretty much what voters concluded last year when they rejected the whole confusing idea by about 162 votes.
In truth, Navajo County’s jail district finagle represented a creative solution to a looming problem – which required no less than a special state law to make possible.
Voters will get a chance to vote again on Proposition 421 in a couple of weeks. The measure will form a jail district, raise the sales tax and bring in about $3.5 million annually.
However, thanks to a state law that basically applies only to Navajo County, about $2.5 million of that new money will replace what the county’s already spending on its jail. Another $1 million will go to the cities in the region that are currently paying to use the jail.
That means the county can use the $2.5 million it was spending on the jail to prevent deep cuts in existing services due to the loss of tax money stemming from the imminent closure of the Kayenta Coal Mine and the Cholla coal-fired power plant.
Already hard-pressed, the county has been casting about desperately for a way to avert disaster when it loses $2.5 million in revenue from closure of the mine and power plant.
The county has few options when it comes to raising extra cash and is also legally mandated to provide most of its services, administering state and federal programs like the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the gas-tax supported road building and maintenance and superior and municipal courts. Taxpayers years ago capped the county’s property tax rate, which can only increase at 2 percent annually. The county gets half a cent of the sales tax now, but can’t raise that either. Fees are already too high.
So county officials had a brainstorm.
Why not take advantage of the state law that allows the county to set up a jail tax district, supported by sales tax? Only problem: The law requires any money raised by the tax for a jail district has to go straight to the jails. The law even specifies that the new money from the tax can’t replace whatever the county was already spending on jails.
That provision would make the creation of a jail district useless in solving the budget problem.
So county officials went to work down at the capital, hoping to cajole the legislature into granting it an exemption that would allow the county to replace the money they were already spending with the new sales tax money. That could avert layoffs affecting 20 percent of the county workforce.
“It took a lot of trips down to the capitol,” said Layton, who’s been assistant county manager for three years. “I personally presented four or five times in front of subcommittees, educating them, telling them we have to have a tool.”
“Sen. Sylvia Allen was very supportive. The entire delegation was very supportive. We got it passed about three years ago because we knew this was coming and it was the only tool we had left.”
They had to argue every detail of their case. They started out asking for .333333 of a cent increase. But lawmakers held them to .33 of a cent.
Layton noted, “we tried to get a little more,” but “it will give us $2.5 million – that’s a net number.”
Winslow, Holbrook, Taylor, Snowflake and Show Low will divide up about $1 million in reduced fees they pay to place town prisoners in the county jail – mostly people awaiting trial or a bail hearing.
“The supervisors can lower the rate, but they can’t increase it above the .33 cents. It’s good for 20 years.”
That is, if voters approve formation of the jail district, said Layton.
Ironically, it’s probably confusing to even mention jails and juvenile detention when talking about Proposition 421. And that kind of makes the point of asking voters a second time will create a jail district, which is really a creative work-around to avert a budget crisis that has nothing at all to do with jails. That’s what a host of public officials told county officials after the narrow defeat of the measure last year.
“Supervisor Steve Williams when we first got the election results last year said, ‘this is the voice of the people. We have to move forward.’ But he got a lot of feedback – friends and neighbors who said they didn’t really understand what they were voting for. We held a meeting – we had 40 officials come – every police chief, nearly all the fire districts, several school districts, every city and town council. They all told us they heard the same thing – people didn’t understand the proposition. We had to use certain language about constructing jails and people really got hung up on that,” said Layton.
So now voters will once again the fate of the county’s budget finagle, which required years of effort, foresight and a new state law.
Just remember, the Jail District isn’t about jails at all. It’s really about whether the county should slash public services — from sheriff’s patrols to processing deeds in the recorder’s office.
“Sadly, if this doesn’t pass, we’re going to have to make some big reductions. We’ve already cut staffing by 16 percent. So if you’ve got an office with one or two or three people in it – you can’t cut another one without really affecting services,” said Layton.
NAVAJO COUNTY — Questions still remain about both the 2018 and the 2019 broadband funding applications submitted by Navajo County. The requests for federal funding could help connect schools and libraries to high speed internet through a program known as E-Rate.
The 2018 funding request was massive: A $60 million bid by Red Rock Telecommunications was included in the application to the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC). It would fund the installation of more than 1,000 miles fiber and monthly recurring costs for services delivered for a 10-year term. The application, however, was made jointly with Gila County.
In sharp contrast, the 2019 Navajo County E-Rate/USAC application is only $537,000 and includes an approved bid from ENA Technologies to connect a few schools and libraries. The ENA Technologies project is far less comprehensive in scope, and leaves out some of the schools and libraries in the Navajo-Gila County project.
However, there remains a strand of “dangling fiber,” if you will.
To date, Navajo County says that the 2018 funding request remains in limbo — it has not yet been funded by USAC. And a shadow has been cast across the huge project by an investigation into allegations of bid rigging by the county attorney and a formal protest against the 2018 application by Sparklight (Cable One).
Sparklight (Cable One) filed a formal bid protest last summer but still say they are not authorized to comment on the specifics of the case other than to confirm “(t)his case is going through the Administrative Appeals Process,” wrote representative Patricia Neemann last August. “I don’t have any further information I can provide at this time,” wrote Sparklight/Cable One Communications Manager Tammy Gabel in an email response to the Independent on July 9, 2019.
Sparklight (Cable One), Cellular One, Fiber Stream, Sudden Link and Sun Corridor also bid on the 2018 project and proposed significantly lower costs that were, in some cases, half of Red Rock’s bid.
At that time, the Navajo-Gila consortium said that they “chose the most comprehensive cost-effective bidder,” based on the terms of the contract according to an August 27, 2018, email from Navajo County IT Director Ken Dewitt. They further explained that Red Rock’s bid incorporated a 10-year period of costs, not just a one-year cost which, according to the consortium, was a primary difference between vendors.
Last November, the Navajo County Attorney’s office hired an outside, independent professional investigator out of Phoenix named Keith Sobraske of Investigative Research Inc. (IRI) to check into allegations of bid rigging.
The allegations arose after a letter of resignation from E-Rate manager Frank Vander Horst was submitted September 25, 2018. He was, at the time, the consortium’s assigned E-Rate consultant. A secondary E-Rate consultant named Joe Freddoso was also hired to work on the project with Vander Horst.
“Mr. Freddoso worked on the project with me for several weeks prior to him determining he could no longer work on the project,” reads last September’s email from Vander Horst to members of the Navajo-Gila Broadband consortium.
“The reason he revealed to me for leaving the project was due to your evaluation team’s having already predetermined Red Rock Telecommunications (RRT) would be awarded the project. Mr. Freddoso did not feel the project was being handled appropriately by you and did not want his name associated with the project due to what he and I perceived were serious ethical issues,” also states the email.
The email went on to explain that, “Upon receipt of the proposals on the current RFP/Form 470, it is apparent to me that RRT should not be awarded the project for capacity reasons and including the fact that it’s construction costs are almost three times that of the other bidders,” wrote Vander Horst.
The Independent reached out to Moore for an update on the investigation and received immediate response.
“The County Attorney’s Office hired Mr. Keith Sobraske to handle the independent investigation,” explains Assistant County Attorney Jason Moore. “The costs are being paid out of the County Attorney’s professional services budget.”
The question of whether any charges will be filed is premature according to Moore. “We will not know whether any civil/criminal charges should even be considered until Mr. Sobraske has submitted his report and we know whether he has determined whether or not there was any wrongdoing, the exact nature of any wrongdoing, and the evidence supporting his conclusions,” informs Moore.
“Cable One’s bid protest is currently pending in front of the Administrative Law Judge has been stayed pending a decision by the Universal Service Administrative Corporation (USAC) on whether or not the project should receive E-Rate funding,” Moore adds. “The reason for the stay of the legal proceedings is that the bid protest is moot if USAC decides not to fund the project.”
Moore said that the 2019 project “… leaves out many of the longer and more expensive fiber runs that would have been necessary to interconnect all of the schools and libraries in Navajo County, especially those on the Navajo Reservation. That explains a good portion of the difference,” confirmed Moore.
Moore said that both E-Rate applications for 2018 (Red Rock Telecommunications) and 2019 (ENA Technologies Inc.) are “still open and pending a funding decision from USAC.”
“Presumably, USAC will not fund both projects,” says Moore, which means that “USAC’s decision on the funding requests will probably determine which of the two projects moves forward.”
HOLBROOK — Christopher Talley, one of the suspects involved in events that led to the Nov. 8, 2016, murder of Show Low Police Officer Darrin Reed, will spend the next 12 and a half years in prison disallowing early release.
Talley, 43, was sentenced to 15 years in the Arizona Department of Corrections on Thursday, July 18 by Navajo County Superior Court Judge Dale P. Nielson.
The full sentence consists of two 15-year terms and one for 8 years, all to run concurrently, or at the same time.
He is given credit for 982 days already served, or two and a half years, reducing the time he will spend behind bars to another 12 and a half years.
Nielson heard from Chance Reed, Darrin’s son, Darrin’s daughter Cheryl Dixon, who spoke to the court via letter, and Cathy Reed, Darrins wife.
Show Low Police Chief Joe Shelley, clearly fighting back emotion and tears, said he not only lost a friend, but a good officer and a compassionate human being, as did the entire community.
He said he can forgive in time, but he cannot forget what happened that day and that a family was torn asunder along with a community. Many in the community knew Darrin and many were helped by him in his role as a police officer.
According to Cathy Reed, Talley himself was once given a second chance by her husband acting as a police officer.
Police chief, son of
victim speak out
Shelley said Nov. 8, 2016 seemed like any other day.
But, he said, it will now be a day he will never forget.
He said Daniel Erickson, the man who pulled the trigger killing Reed, shot in the direction of himself and Cmdr. Jeff McNeil before he shot and killed Reed and then ran away.
He said Darrin was the kind of officer who took his responsibilities as a police officer very seriously noting that if called upon, he would even have protected Talley.
“You took away a person who made a difference,” Shelley said to Talley who sat next to his attorney stoically. “This brought a dark cloud over the community that day it happened.” Shelley added the loss of Reed was something “insurmountable” adding that Reed was looking forward to retiring just four months from the day he was gunned down.
Talley’s actions, Shelley said, helped lead to the loss of a friend, a brother, a father and a compassionate human being who went out of his way to help others.
Chance spoke next telling the judge that unlike some want to believe, involvement in illegal drug use is not a victimless crime.
“Just look around you at all the people here in this courtroom,” he said directing his words at Talley. “They are all here because of you. I would not have had to go to the hospital that day if not for you.”
Chance said now he will never get to “switch” places with his father and have his father see him become a police officer.
They were just getting started on the next chapter of their lives, he said, when Erickson, Talley and the others involved in the events of Nov. 8, 2016, took it all away from him and his family.
He said it has been a continuous two and half years of pain since the murder of his father and that he will be “eternally grateful that my last words to him were, ‘I love you.’”
Talley, Chance said, has shown no remorse, so he asked the judge for the maximum sentence of 40 years.
Reed was shot and killed by Erickson Nov. 8, 2016, during a call to the Days Inn in Show Low about drug activity in Room 221. When Reed, Show Low Police Chief Joe Shelley and Cmdr. Jeff McNeil started for the room where Erickson and others were processing crystal methamphetamine, Erickson was running away when he shot at the officers in the parking lot.
Talley was allegedly a few blocks away selling meth to someone when the murder took place.
Navajo County Prosecutor Lee White said they have video and phone record evidence that Talley was across the street from the Days Inn almost immediately after the murder and that he also texted Erickson telling him to answer his phone when Erickson apparently failed to do so after killing Reed.
At some point very shortly after Reed’s murder, Erickson, according to investigators, sent a text to Talley saying he needed a ride.
Show Low resident Jason Michael Hill gave him that ride to a nearby mobile home where Erickson altered his appearance and changed clothes before being taken to Lake of the Woods, a cabin resort in Lakeside, where he got a cabin and hid out from police with a hostage. He was later shot and killed by police after they surrounded the cabin. An effort was made to try to get him to surrender peaceably.
Hill got 35 years in prison for his part in the murder.
The judge’s decision on Talley came after a final, last minute attempt by Talley’s defense attorney, Elizabeth Hale, to refute some evidence and testimony in a 12,000 page disclosure document that she claimed was not provided to her in time to review before the Thursday sentencing date in Holbrook.
Hale not only said she needed another continuance to review the disclosure document, but said other evidence and testimony in the case was either wrong or not enough to connect Talley directly to any actions that were a factor in Reed’s murder.
Hale said there was nothing connecting Talley to events in room 221 at the Days Inn on Nov. 8, 2016 and anything pertaining to that allegation by police or prosecutors should be disregarded.
Prosecutor Lee White refuted Hale’s claims saying the state had ample evidence connecting Talley directly to Erickson and the meth ring.
She noted that Talley has a past criminal history that includes illegal drugs like meth and heroin.
She also noted evidence that text messages between Talley and Erickson about the latter coming to Show Low started on Nov. 1, 2016, all of them related to meth sales in the White Mountains.
White said they also had evidence of gun transactions that in some way involved Talley around the time Reed was murdered.
And, said White, there was more than one witness who told investigators they saw Talley and Erickson together in room 221 Nov. 8, 2016.
Show Low Police reports, according to White, also state that evidence of meth production in room 221 was found.
As a last piece of evidence, White said they have evidence of a 23-second cell phone conversation between Erickson and Talley immediately after Reed’s murder.
Talley himself spoke shortly before being sentenced, saying he was sorry for Reed’s murder and that he too has lost members of his family and friends (within a five year period) and that he knows how it feels to have a loved one die.
But, he said, “I had nothing to do with it (Reed’s murder). I have no real memory of that day. I take full responsibility for my actions, I have done that all my life. But I had no idea what that dude was doing that day. I am an addict, I need help. I admit it, I like heroin. But I am not a bad person, not a violent person.”
Judge Neilson said he believed that Talley’s past home life and his drug addiction played a role in decisions he made that day and sentenced him to 15 years on charges of possession of dangerous drugs for sale, 15 years for manufacture of dangerous drugs, and 8 years for participating in a criminal syndicate.