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Complaints against Mohave County department won’t be made public

December 6, 2018

Mohave County supervisors want to see all documents, interviews and exhibits from an investigation into employee complaints against Mohave County Development Services and building department operations, but they’ll have to review the documents in closed session.

The Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Monday, with Chairman Gary Watson opposed, to direct staff to obtain the information from the attorney and investigator in the case, the details of which will be kept secret from the public.

“Any discussion of those details needs to be done in executive session,” County Attorney Matt Smith said. Supervisor Buster Johnson put the item on the board’s regular agenda after being denied information about the investigation.

Smith said he worked with County Manager Mike Hendrix to accomplish “transparency” about the employee complaints, but could not address the allegations being made by the employees nor their names as they were guaranteed confidentiality in their interviews.

The second accomplishment from this case is the opportunity to take a look at how the county does things and come up with recommendations to make it better, Smith said.

Arizona Counties Insurance Pool, or ACIP, hired labor attorney Jim Jellison as chief investigator for the complaints, and he wrote a 58-page report that was given to supervisors in executive session.

Smith recommended against voting in favor of releasing all the documents and transcripts of employee interviews in order to protect the identity of those employees.

They gave details under confidentiality that include critiques of department heads and county managers, and if that ends up in the newspaper, it would be “very embarrassing” and the worker would be subject to retaliation, Smith mentioned.

That could result in litigation against Mohave County and more money being spent by the county. Perhaps the information obtained can be used as a tool to improve government, not as a way to involve the county in litigation, he said.

Johnson asked about the cost of the investigation, and Hendrix estimated it at $40,000 to $50,000.

Mohave County requested the information and pays ACIP more than $1.8 million a year, Johnson noted. Due to the seriousness of the complaints and the fact that ACIP works for the county, the board has every right to view the entire investigation and ACIP should turn over the documents, he added.

Supervisors were informed about the investigation on Aug. 20, even though it was never approved by the board. Johnson tried to obtain the full report from ACIP and was finally contacted by Jellison on Oct. 24.

He was told that ACIP Executive Director Bill Hardy had ordered the information could not be released. He sent a letter to Hardy requesting the information on Oct. 29 and received no response.

“I didn’t like that we spent a lot of money with ACIP, and they don’t return emails or calls,” Johnson said.

Michael Boone, a citizen from Lake Havasu City, said during public comment that Mohave County has a problem and if the public knew about it, the auditorium would be packed.

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