Incoming sheriff asks 7 top officials to resign - East Valley Tribune: News

Incoming sheriff asks 7 top officials to resign

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Posted: Tuesday, November 18, 2008 7:50 pm | Updated: 10:34 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Pinal County Sheriff-elect Paul Babeu says that a good-old-boy system, cronyism and a lack of professionalism have plagued the 800-person law enforcement agency under the direction of outgoing Sheriff Chris Vasquez.

And he plans to begin changing the culture when he takes office at the beginning of the year - and that change will start at the top.

Babeu is asking for the resignations of seven of Vasquez's chief deputies and top jail commanders to prepare for an influx of new leadership.

Those being asked to resign include Jeff Kirkham, a chief deputy that has been on the job for about two months, jail commander Terry Altman and the handful of at-will administrative staff serving directly under the pair. All can reapply to the agency if they're interested, Babeu said.

Babeu sent a list of requests last week to Vasquez that he said will help ensure a smooth transition in the next 40 days.

Specifically, Babeu asked for detailed budget numbers and a freeze on spending until he takes office, a full employee list, and he requested that no one be hired, fired, demoted or disciplined until he's in charge.

"I was trying to be all encompassing," Babeu said. "There are golden parachutes ... there are other actions that could happen that should not happen."

Sheriff's officials did not return phone calls Tuesday for comment. A memo by Vasquez addressed to all department personnel says that new hires, purchases and training will be halted until Babeu takes office in January.

Vasquez also wrote that the completion of investigations and disciplinary actions for Sheriff's personnel should be up to the "review by the new Sheriff."

"It is my sincere desire to afford a smooth transition from my administration to that of Sheriff-Elect Babeu," Vasquez wrote.

Babeu's request and the memo written by Vasquez point to a more harmonious relationship between the two men than existed in a bitter campaign that Babeu won handily.

However, Babeu is not backing off a central claim he made during the election - that Vasquez administers an organization rife with political favoritism and that systematically promotes officers based on their connections within the department.

Babeu says he is anxious to see the findings of ongoing investigations of disciplinary problems within the department. He said that there could be new internal investigations launched based on personnel problems he has heard about during the course of the campaign.

A crackdown within the department, as well as a new leadership team, should signal a change in the way the department will be run to all of the rank-and-file employees, he said.

"Whether you are friends with me or not - no one is protected. That will send shock waves immediately through the organization," Babeu said. "People will advance based on their performance, their education ... that's what people are starving for."

Problems with Pinal County Deputy Cardest James is an example of how the department has operated unprofessionally, Babeu said. James was found to have failed to provide proper records for the maintenance of breathalyzer machines for more than a year, leading to the dismissals of several DUI cases. James recently shot a man who was threatening him with a gun, and is reported to have given a non-sworn person a weapon before the altercation, Babeu said.

"This is where I believe Sheriff Vasquez has erred. He's closed ranks and withheld information and that has resulted in further distrust by the public," Babeu said.

Babeu says advisors have suggested he perform a full financial audit of the department. He also wants to see where the office has spent money reaped from drug seizures and other criminal activity.

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