Consider the terms: Ford follows concerning trend of walking away from elected posts

I’m not going to go too crazy here on Pima County Treasurer Beth Ford’s retirement.

No shots fired. No dogs will be harmed. 

Ford is stepping down as county treasurer after almost 24 years in office. 

Don’t know anything about Ford? Good. County treasurers are like offensive guards in football. The less anyone hears their names, the better the job they are doing. There weren’t any “where’d-all-the- money-go?” stories about Ford. Her tenure witnessed no state (or for God sakes) federal investigations of the office.

The money came in. The money went out. Awesome. Gold star, Beth.

My issue only issue with Ford is kind of the only issue I could have made out of Steve Kozachik. Yeah, seems like just the day before yesterday I was singing Koz’s praises. They are well-deserved. 

However, it would seem like there’s been an unwritten rule for local elected officeholders regarding their terms. Fulfilling them is optional, as Ford tried to explain with a resignation letter to the board of supervisors. 

“The books are balanced. We haven’t had a significant finding in an audit in years. My job is done.”

No. No, it isn’t. Consulting my trusty calendar, I see it’s March 2024. Her term ends in January 2025. Another 10 months would have killed her?

Say what you will about former Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller or County Attorney Barbara “Lock ‘Em Up” LaWall. They at least completed the final four-year terms they were granted when they asked for people’s votes.

Now, Ford has her successor in mind, in the form of former state Rep. Chris Ackerley. In fact, knowing Ford wasn’t running for another term, Ackerley pulled candidacy petitions seeking to succeed her. Now Ford is telling the Board of Supervisors, “Hey just appoint Ackerley to finish this up.”

I strongly doubt that’s going to happen. The board consists of four Democrats and just one Steve Christy. Why would Democrats hand the incumbency to a Republican who’s already running in the next election, when they refused to do so in replacing Democrat Sharon Bronson, who left her job mid-term in November?

They chose Sylvia Lee, who promised not to seek a full elected term. Incumbency should be an advantage bestowed by the voters. It shouldn’t be bequeathed by politicians.

I wrote a column about this way back, detailing how so many Pima County elected officials end up first being appointed by the Board of Supervisors and then cruise to re-election as incumbents. I guess that beat earning their seats outright.

The most drastic example of this was in 2010, when former state Rep. Frank Antenori sought a seat in the state Senate to replace Jonathan Paton.

As over the top as he could be, I always liked Frank for being honest enough to say stuff like this to the Tucson Weekly, years ago: 

 “I’ve done a lot to work with Pima County and protect them from a lot of the stuff that was going on in Phoenix,” Antenori says. “I think the Board of Supervisors would much rather have a guy in the Senate that has been working with them than a guy who is working against them. I think they’d rather have a happy Frank Antenori rather than an angry Frank Antenori.”

Not that he was threatening anyone, you understand. He wanted to be very clear about that. Except, he was totally threatening the board. It worked. They appointed him. He was eventually undone by redistricting. 

This whole incumbency by fiat thing is a concern, but it’s more about who gets to decide whom replaces the departing elected official than the departing elected official themselves.

My point today is simply that candidates for office should probably consider whether they are willing to commit to serve out their terms.

That way we know that the people in office were chosen by the people and represent their interests.

In a bizarre way, some might think it’s better to appoint someone who didn’t have to promise this or pledge that to get a swath of support from a key constituency. I don’t hold with that. Balancing interests is part of the job. 

Quick: What’s the difference between a special interest and a key constituency?

Your supporters are a key constituency. Your opponents are a special interest.

When the people decide to entrust candidates with elected office, they should have a pretty good sense that the candidate will actually do the job.

Also, it’s not like elected officials don’t exact promises in exchange for putting someone on a council or board.

And everyone can have their reasons for this, Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson took a tumble and was going to be long on the mend.

Kozachik had a golden opportunity to cap off his career building a new sports complex. That’s what he did as a civilian working as an associate director for University of Arizona Athletics. Not a lot of great opportunities come up for 70-year-olds out there, so it’s hard to blame him.

A councilmember in Sahuarita moved out of town, triggering an appointment.

TUSD board member Mark Stegeman just gave up the ghost after years of infighting with his colleagues, declaring he wasn’t the best spokesperson for the difference.

Paul Durham quit the Tucson City Council to take care of his ailing husband and after he, himself, fell and was dealing with cracked ribs.

It seems like every couple months, Pima County Superintendent of Public Instruction Dustin Williams is naming a new person to a school board somewhere.

Sometimes, as with Raul Grijalva and the Board of Supervisors back in the day, a resignation takes place because somebody wins a higher office.

But plenty of times, what’s called “the Pima County Way” among the staffers of that government body has meant a resignation is clearly intended to set up a hand-picked choice in an upcoming race.

In 2015, in the most prominent of recent examples, Clarence Dupnik dropped his sheriff’s badge on his desk after 35 years, telling the Supes they should appoint his chief deputy, Chris Nanos. So they did.

Said appointees aren’t always bad choices. I’m criticizing the pattern and not the individuals. 

I went on and on Monday about how good of a Councilmember Steve Kozachik proved to be. I did the same back in the day about Supervisor Ray Carroll (who was appointed to fill a seat left vacant by a death). Once something becomes standard procedure, I can’t exactly whoop on the folks for following the norm.

The breakdown of norms, a little at a time, can lead to bad places.

Modern politics currently is hanging by its fingernails over the fires of Mount Fascism, so the mid-term retirement of a county treasurer seems like a minor issue. That brings me back to another piece I wrote about looking out for the democracy’s brown M & Ms. 

Voters approved a Reid Park Zoo expansion that called for the demolition of an artificial mound called Barnum Hill and then some of them went ape that the hill would be bladed to make room for an expanded tiger paddock. Not for nothing but in my zoo, I would much rather have a happy tiger in a larger enclosure than an angry tiger feeling claustrophobic.

People voted for a plan without paying much attention to it. That’s a problem. People vote for candidates expecting them to fill their term. When they don’t, that’s a problem. These little problems with democracy can add up to the point where people start thinking it might be nice to take a break from democracy and just have a dictatorship for a while. Problem being, dictatorships won’t allow a break to be taken from them without blood and guts being shed.

This isn’t a giant column about a splashy issue. It’s just something we voters should be paying more attention to and my job is to point out that stuff.

So, Ford did alright on the job. Ackerley is free to run and is now experienced and well-positioned enough to work to present a compelling case to voters why he would be the best treasurer going forward. 

Let the voters decide who should serve in the position and if they choose Ackerley, he might want to remember the job is a four-year commitment every single time.