Goddard asked to halt illegal payments
By Linda Bentley | September 30, 2009
Judicial Watch stands ready to act
PHOENIX – It’s been over 30 days since Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, sent a letter to Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard requesting he file a lawsuit against the Phoenix Pension Board, its five members and City of Phoenix Chief of Police Jack F. Harris to enjoin the illegal payment of pension funds to Harris.
The letter was sent on behalf of Ann M. Malone, Daniel Boyd, William Buividas, Brian Miller and Donna Rae Neill, residents and taxpayers of the city of Phoenix. Boyd, Buividas and Miller are also active duty or retired City of Phoenix police officers.
A.R.S. § 35-212(A) states, “The attorney general in his discretion may bring an action in the name of the state to enjoin the illegal payment of public monies …”
In January 2007, Harris retired from the City of Phoenix Police Department. Shortly thereafter, the city reemployed Harris as its “Public Safety Manager.”
According to Judicial Watch, as public safety manager, Harris continues to serve as chief of police, wears the uniform of the chief of police, calls himself the chief of police and “performs all of the same duties and exercises all the same authority he exercised as the chief of police before his retirement.”
Additionally, on the Phoenix Police Department’s organiza-tional chart, displayed on the city’s website, Harris is shown as the head of the City of Phoenix Police Department and is identified as “Public Safety Manager/Police Chief Jack F. Harris.”
In May 2009, Phoenix City Manager Frank Fairbanks officially confirmed Harris is the Phoenix Chief of Police.
However, A.R.S. § 38-849(D) doesn’t permit a retired member to continue to receive pension benefits if he subsequently becomes employed in the “same position” from which he retired and the system is not permitted to make pension payments to the retired member during the period of reemployment.
Judicial Watch Director of Litigation Paul Orfanedes states in his letter, payment of pension benefits to Harris by the Phoenix Police Pension Board is clearly a violation of statute.
Because monies in the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System are “public monies” as defined by A.R.S. § 35-212(B), Orfanedes says there is clear legal authority to enjoin the payment of pension benefits to Harris.
In conclusion, Orfanedes wrote, “Should you choose not to initiate the requested action, these taxpayers and active duty or retired officers are prepared to initiate a lawsuit in their own names … and to seek any other relief that might be available to them.”
Orfanedes included a draft of the proposed lawsuit along with his letter.
“We expect public officials to follow the rules and we expect the Arizona Attorney General to enforce the law,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The illegal payment of pension funds to Chief Harris is a waste of taxpayer funds and Attorney General Goddard should put a stop to it. Judicial Watch stands ready to act if the attorney general fails to remedy the situation,” within the next four weeks.
In April, Harris came under fire by the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA) for abruptly resigning his seat on the Arizona Police Officer Standards and Training Board (AZPOST) without providing any reason.
At the time, PLEA President Mark Spencer said Harris’ resignation left the fifth largest city in the nation with no representation on the AZPOST Board, which is the state’s certifying authority for law enforcement.
Spencer stated, “PLEA is unsure if this sudden and unannounced resignation has anything to do with the issue raised by PLEA regarding Harris' ability to legally serve on the Board with regard to his position as ‘Public Safety Manager’ as opposed to ‘Police Chief.’”
More recently, Spencer pointed out the Phoenix City Charter requires that the City of Phoenix Police Department be headed by a Chief of Police and PLEA has requested that the city install a qualified person to that position.