One of the unearthed vestiges of former County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry’s resignation issue was the revelation of “COVID-19 Premium Payments”. The newly-minted replacement to Mr. Huckelberry, Jan Lesher, sent a memorandum to the Supervisors several weeks ago identifying some 19 County Central Administration employees who were said to be “closely held” by Mr. Huckelberry in the “secret” that surrounded the details, terms, and conditions of his resigning as County Administrator.

Yet, as we found out, Mr. Huckelberry reclassified himself as a “Pima County employee” in order to take advantage of retirement income, while his position, job, salary and benefits would remain in place. Throughout the process, and to this day, the “closely held employees” have never said a word.

We have to remember also, the outrage and indignation that my Board colleagues expressed to a Tucson Sentinel reporter when told by him that Mr. Huckelberry had secretly retired effective July 4 of last year. Two of my fellow Supervisors, in particular, were shocked, shocked, and completely incredulous that such a process could ever have happened in the first place, and what a travesty this was to County taxpayers. More on them later.

As the Freedom of Information Act requests for more documentation of this novella worked their snail-paced journey through the County’s response system, one piece of this saga bubbled up showing a list of 11 white-collar administrators, and even some managers or department heads, who received what has now become notoriously known as, “COVID-19 Premium Payments”. These bonuses ranged anywhere from $2500 to as much as $5200.

As Administrator Lesher explained during the May 17 Board meeting, these payments were legally appropriate under the guidelines of COVID-19 Relief/ARPA monies and that the payments did not require approval by the Board of Supervisors. There, obviously, was no Board approval, just as there was no form of notification at all to the Board of COVID-19 Premium Payments being paid.

During that Board of Supervisors meeting, I asked Administrator Lesher who determined which County employees would be paid the bonuses and the criteria for the amount paid. She replied that she herself determined the recipients and how much each would receive. She went on to convey that the entire premium bonus plan was devised by her and was approved in April of 2021. I asked her who approved this plan and Administrator Lesher replied, “Mr. Huckelberry”. These bonuses were paid from April through June 2021, and with a stroke of his pen, Mr. Huckelberry structured his “secret” retirement.

To make matters worse, the bonus recipients were all on the “closely held employees” list and charged with safeguarding Mr. Huckelberry’s July 4, 2021 retirement secret, later uncovered by the Tucson Sentinel reporter.

Given the severity of the COVID-19 mandates imposed by Pima County and the deleterious impact they had on people’s lives and incomes; the loss of businesses, jobs, livelihoods; the disruption of children’s schooling and all the other negative implications of past Board COVID-19 policies, didn’t she think, I asked Administrator Lesher, if even only from an optics standpoint, was giving out COVID-19 Premium Payments a bad idea? I pointed out that these County employees still and always retained a job throughout the pandemic; never missed a paycheck; received a 5% salary increase and, to add insult to injury, the taxpayers funded the premium bonus payments in addition to and over and above the fact that taxpayers were already funding their substantial salaries all this time. By the reaction from my colleagues, I guess I must have really stepped over the metaphoric line when I asked Administrator Lesher whether making these payments to the same employees who appeared on the same list of Mr. Huckelberry’s “closely held” employees, that, “Wouldn’t doing this raise eyebrows as some sort of quid pro quo payment?”

My fellow Supervisors went positively apoplectic over me asking such a simple question. One got up from his chair and stomped out of the meeting. Another sounded a loud and deep sigh while rolling her eyes. A third made a lofty and windy statement about his indignation that I would make such an accusation about County employees who have honorably comported themselves.

Bear in mind, these are the same Supervisors who initially expressed such melodramatic outrage over finding out for the first time, from the Tucson Sentinel reporter, that Mr. Huckelberry had retired secretly almost nine months earlier. Not once during the last two Board meetings have any of my fellow Supervisors asked a single question of Administrator Lesher, or anyone else, about any of Mr. Huckelberry’s resignation details.

It appears at this point nothing yet is going to happen. In light of all of this, I guess we should know by now that if you don’t like the answers, don’t ask the questions. I am going to keep asking more questions until I get the answers that Pima County taxpayers are demanding and deserve.

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Steve Christy