Some years ago, I had a boss who wanted to understand in detail the programs and activities of the communications department I ran. “I’m not trying to micromanage you,” he explained. “But if anything you’re doing is ever questioned, I want to be able to say that I both understood and supported what you were doing. I won’t leave you hanging, and I’ll take bullets for you if need be.”
In fact, he gave me plenty of freedom to run my department, and I appreciated his support. I understood that I was responsible for delivering results, but my boss and I were both accountable for anything that happened on my watch. His neck and mine were both on the line,
Compare and contrast that stance with the one taken yesterday by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff in America.” Despite widespread corruption and mismanagement in his office, Arpaio saw no reason to resign.
It’s true enough that much of the blame for wrongdoing can be traced to David Hendershott, Arpaio’s former chief deputy. A wide-ranging report on MCSO corruption, released yesterday, included such revelations as these:
- Hendershott allegedly used money to take his family on an eight-day trip to Alaska.
- For their son’s basketball tournament, he allegedly took $18,000 from the sheriff’s posse foundation and $7,000 from another fund.
- For years, he had free Verizon cell phones for himself and his family.
- The report also shows Hendershott’s involvement in wanting to investigate the Maricopa Board of Supervisors, which was highly unusual and violated MCSO policies.
- He ordered the staff not to bring controversial issues to the sheriff’s attention in staff meetings
- He reportedly ‘fudged’ numbers right before a news conference to make a sheriff’s program look more successful. Hendershott denies that incident.
Other recent reports have indicated a general lack of financial controls. Auditors found that Arpaio’s office took $99 million in tax money to fund jails and improperly spent it on roundups of suspected illegal immigrants and investigations of the sheriff’s political foes.
When asked yesterday whether he should resign, Arpaio said no.
“Am I to blame for Hendershott’s lack of forthcomingness about all the things revealed in this report? I don’t think so,” Arpaio said. “Here is what I have come away with: that I will never again be sheltered from my command staff by an overbearing chief deputy.”
Last month, Phoenix’s chief of police, Jack Harris, retired after being removed from his duties. He was called to account over allegations that Phoenix kidnapping statistics had been exaggerated to gain more federal crime-fighting funds. Frankly, when compared with the misuse of $99 million, this offense looks like small potatoes.
In announcing the departure of Hendershott, Arpaio said: “When it comes to serious integrity violations, there is no wiggle room for a law enforcement professional.” The same is true when it comes to serious, ongoing mismanagement.
It’s time for America’s toughest sheriff to get tough on himself. He should resign and let the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office start fresh. It’s the right thing to do.