When someone in Yavapai County Arizona government develops a vendetta against you, you better get an attorney, bolt the doors, turn the outside lights on and hunker down.
County Administrator Phil Bourdon filed a complaint against County Assessor Pam Pearsall when he discovered her daughter was working for her as a temporary, part-time employee.
This, in spite of the fact that Phil Bourdon supervises his wife Tina in county government and she makes $70,000 per year in salaries and benefits. Bourdon will claim he is not his wife’s direct supervisor, but a county administrator, under Arizona statutes, has the authority to fire, launch an investigation and discipline county employees.
Tina Bourdon worked for Pearsall and, someone in county government started the debate to move her out of Pearsall’s department about the same time the investigation into Pearsall’s hiring of her daughter began.
Daughter Ashley Stewart had volunteered in the assessor’s office for six years and was developing a good reputation as a hard worker. Whenever her husband would be deployed by the military, she would make the drive from Texas over to Prescott, Arizona so she could keep busy and add good things to her resume. She is now working on a PhD which will help her work with military members and spouses.
But Bourdon didn’t like Pam Pearsall’s plan to eliminate his wife’s position, and what better way to get back than to launch an investigation into the daughter and move his wife out from under Pearsall’s supervision?
Little did taxpayers know that it would result in investigation by two sheriffs departments, a move to another county because of conflicts of interest, and a 52 page report.
When Pearsall seeks help from her own county attorney, she gets push back from county attorney Sheila Polk because of conflicts of interest. It happened in three recent court cases when Pearsall upped the value per acre on local ranchers. The ranchers objected, went around Pearsall to Bourdon and the county supervisors and sued. Supervisors took their rancher friends point of views but Polk and her staff could not defend the suit because Sheila Polk and her husband own a ranch that is in the lawsuit.
No one quite knows why a conflict of interest was declared in the case of the hired daughter, but the whole investigation was moved to neighboring Coconino County. Lt. Tim Cornelius, and others from the Coco Sheriff’s office, authored the 52 page report, after interviewing the Pearsall’s, Bourdon and others.
And it’s a misdemeanor!
“As I understand it, I would get a penalty like a traffic violation fine, if found guilty,” Pam Pearsall told me. “But it would look bad on my record at a time I am preparing for re-election.”
If it sounds like much ado about nothing, maybe so. But that’s how politics roll in Yavapai County.
Ashley Pearsall Stewart had filled out the application for employment but the electronic form would not populate the middle (maiden) name. She was hired. Made about $5,000 dollars. Pam Pearsall went to a meeting in Tennessee and was contacted by the human resource department head who had blown the whistle on her to Bourdon. Pearsall could hardly argue legal merits over the phone from 1,600 miles away so she asked her office manager to immediately fire Ashley.
Wendy Ross, head of Human Resources, sent Bourdon a gotcha email, obtained by this reporter, claiming Pam violated law by hiring Ashley and they should fire Ashley.
Pam Pearsall believes she did nothing wrong. She spoke to Ross and read Ross’ legal opinion, drawn from Arizona Statute 38-481 regarding hiring a family member, and County policy 3.01.2.D. Pam telephoned her office manager Sharlett Smith and informed Sharlett that in Pam’s absence, Sharlett should be the one to let her daughter go (fire her.) Smith’s response was, “That’s too bad because Ashley has done a really good job.”
Smith told sheriffs that she was actually daughter Ashley’s direct supervisor, which created one level between Ashley and her mother Pam. This is important to note because Phil Bourdon has taken the public position that he really is not a direct supervisor of his wife Tina, that there is one manager in between them in the pecking order.
Asha Dugan, an assessor’s office staffer told sheriffs that “she misses Ashley and would give her a great recommendation.”
Confidential letters and emails, obtained by this reporter, were flying back and forth between Ross, Bourdon and others. Bourdon’s said Ashley was selling candy in the office and that could be indirect campaigning for her mother. It also wove complaints into the communique about who and how Pearsall was supervising specific employees. Bourdon sent an anonymous letter to the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors that included this sentence: I’m sorry if you are offended by the anonymous letter but it is a well-known fact that in the assessor’s office that the tattletales often find themselves unemployed.”
Ross rubbed Pam Pearsall’s nose in the county policy regarding family members being hired, but Ross has done nothing about Phil Bourdon’s wife and her $70,000 county salary and benefits. The nose rubbing including this statement: County policy prevents family members from being hired if employment would create a supervisor/subordinate relationship… have the potential for an adverse impact on work performance, or create either an actual conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest.
A close inspection of email and letter dates show Ross and Bourdon were looking into the Pearsalls for several months. The Coconino County sheriffs started their investigation about two months ago.
No investigation has been launched into Tina Bourdon’s employment, under Phil Bourdon’s purview.
When sheriffs interviewed Phil Bourdon about the Pearsall hiring incident, sheriffs notes show he was peculiarly familiar with the whole history, referring to content in Ashley Pearsall’s employment packet and other documents titled Personnel Action Forms of Ashley Pearsall. Bourdon indicated he had known Ashley for some time, having run into her at the local home and garden show where he engaged her in conversation and having run into her in the assessor’s office when she was either a volunteer or an employee.
Bourdon admitted to sheriffs that the HR department probably input Ashley’s last name (Stewart) into the computer system but that was surely not meant to deceive, and that the hiring process “picks the best candidate for each position.”
Sheriffs interviewed Ashley Pearsall Stewart when she had returned to Texas and one issue about work that came up was Ashley’s task of meeting with other politicians about legislative bill 2253, which was about proposed changes in property tax law. This work, and other work, required Ashley to meet with electeds or their staffers as far away as Maricopa County (Phoenix).
Pam Pearsall has had to hire an attorney, Anthony Shaw. County Attorney Sheila Polk has conflicted her way out of having to serve as a property tax attorney in such cases as the two active lawsuits from the ranchers, regarding increases in their property values – an increase that some ranchers had not seen for three decades.
”When I took office, I was surprised that some ranchers had not had their property values looked at by my office for nearly three decades,” Pearsall said. “I couldn’t believe local politicians criticized me over my updated property assessments because I was essentially bringing more fairness to property owners of the county. I also couldn’t believe the county attorney would not defend me in those ranchers’ lawsuits because she joined in the lawsuit.”
The entire 52 page investigation, obtained by this examiner, was sent to Sheila Polk, from the Coconino County Sheriff’s. The case will be tried in Yavapai County, but Polk is conflicted off the case.
The sheriffs, Phil Bourdon, and the county supervisors were offered an opportunity to comment on this article but have declined.