The union for the rank-and-file officers of the Pinal County Sheriff's Office is showing signs of splintering after a controversial endorsement of Sheriff Chris Vasquez.
Some of the leaders of the Pinal County Deputies Association recently held a second vote among the 190 members, and the results indicate many in the association support Paul Babeu, who faces Vasquez in the Nov. 4 general election.
The recent vote contradicts an endorsement of Vasquez this summer after eight members of the association's board agreed to endorse him.
But that action didn't include a vote by the membership.
Officially, the endorsement of Vasquez still stands. But ballots mailed in by members yielded 75 votes - 54 for Paul Babeu, 14 for Vasquez and seven that made no endorsement, said Mike Reardon, who was recently booted from the deputies association's board of directors.
"That's more votes than we get for the election of our officers," Reardon said of the interest in the mailed ballots. "The point is that this is what the membership wanted. Numerous members wanted a say in this endorsement."
The vote exemplifies the contentiousness of the election and the infighting among some in the union over who they should support as the county's next top law-enforcement official.
Reardon was dismissed from the executive board of the union at a Sept. 25 meeting for placing his "personal agenda above the union," according to an e-mail he received from the association. Reardon did not attend that meeting.
Leo Aparicio, vice president of the union, just stepped down from his post, union officials confirmed.
Albert Phelps, a union member, said the controversy over the vote could split the union apart.
Troit Stowe, association president, promised that the full membership would have a vote in the endorsement for the election, but that didn't happen. The broken promise has angered many of the members, Phelps said.
"We kept asking him when are we going to vote, when are we going to vote - and he said I can endorse who I want to endorse," Phelps said.
In fact, the board voted 6-2 in August to endorse Vasquez, with Reardon and Aparicio dissenting.
Stowe agreed that he had promised the membership they could have a say in the endorsement. But he changed his mind after reviewing the association's bylaws, he said.
The association, which has been in existence for more than 10 years, has always made endorsements at the board level, Stowe said.
While the association's bylaws make no mention of the process for endorsing any candidate, Stowe said it would take a change of the association's rules to change tradition.
Aubrey Keck, a member of the board of directors, acknowledged that Stowe "may have spoken out of turn" in promising a full vote of the membership.
However, he said it's in the union's best interest to support Vasquez, who has helped the union in its quest for broader civil service protections and to become a more powerful bargaining unit.
"How do you not endorse someone who is supporting us on the issues?" Keck said.
Reardon, meanwhile, said he is not buying Stowe's reversal based on the obscurities of the association's rules.
"I think that it's being used after the fact to justify their actions," he said. "(Stowe) could have just as easily been able to authorize a vote."
Stowe said it's questionable whether the association's endorsement carries real weight with voters. He acknowledged it could be more surprising to voters if the association backed someone other than the incumbent.
"I don't know how much an endorsement carries on something like this," he said. "I think most people are going to vote their party preference."