Members of the Pinal County Deputies Association say they were lied to when told they would have a voice in endorsing the county's next sheriff.
Last month, the association endorsed Sheriff Chris Vasquez, but the vice president, a board member and the 191-member association say they were not given the option to vote on the endorsement.
Instead, select members of the association's eight-member board of executives made the decision in a phone conversation, members say.
According to association member Albert Phelps, a sheriff's patrol supervisor, the group approved the endorsement of Vasquez in 2006 because it was promised an open voting system for November's election.
"We wanted a say in who's endorsed," Phelps said. "They blatantly lied to us and then back-doored us."
Phelps said only a select few were notified of an online voting survey while the rest were overlooked. He also said the survey was faulty because members could vote as many times as they wanted and not all of the candidates were listed. After the survey was given, the board of executives discussed their decision over the phone without input from the rest of the association.
The plan to include a full membership vote in the hotly contested Sept. 2 primary between Vasquez and Jayme Valuenzuela, who are both Democrats, is not common. The winner will take on Republican Paul Babeu in November.
Board member Mike Reardon, a sheriff's investigator, said a new system was enacted during this election to allow association members to vote on the endorsed candidate. In past years, only the board was allowed to vote for endorsement choices.
The association held the online survey and a phone conference in July, but Reardon, vice president Leo Aparicio and 191 other members were not notified to place their vote, Reardon said. Some learned of the endorsement through the news and Vasquez's campaign Web site.
"The membership was very disturbed about the decision," Reardon said. "(They) talked about leaving the association."
According to association treasurer Aubrey Keck, Reardon was called during the survey and asked for his endorsement opinion. Keck said the board voted 6-2 in favor of Vasquez.
Keck also said board members were not allowed a vote, which is a normal process in the association's 11-year history.
"We have some disaffected members who have tried to put this out," Keck said of the promise.
After Vasquez's endorsement was released July 31 by association president Troit Stowe, Reardon said an August meeting of board members was held to approve or retract the letter. Board members voted in a 19-1 decision to retract the letter in the meeting that was "somewhat contentious at times," he said.
The retraction, written by Aparicio, states the association's decision to endorse Vasquez is "null and void" until a formal meeting is held.
Calls to Stowe and Aparicio were not returned for comment. Sheriff's office spokesman Mike Minter said he could not say whether the office considered the endorsement valid and referred to the association's Web site.
Reardon said another meeting will be in September to agree on a ballot that will be mailed out to all association members for their endorsement decision.
Keck said ballots would be mailed out if a majority of members decide to vote for the endorsement and the board's decision would be revoked.
Phelps said he only wanted the fair vote that the association was promised two years ago.
"The membership opposes this letter because nobody wants another four years of Chris Vasquez," he said. "It's time for this system to go away,"
Tribune writer Jason Massad contributed to this report.