Outgoing Pima County Treasurer tells Supes that one applicant for her job is unqualified

As the two applicants for Pima County treasurer prepare to meet in an online forum Thursday, outgoing county banker Beth Ford is saying one of them is unqualified for the office.

In a April 4 letter, Ford urged the Pima County Board of Supervisors to choose her current chief deputy, Chris Ackerley, over Patti Davidson, who served as her chief deputy from 2001 to 2016.

Ackerley and Davidson are set to join a League of Women Voters forum at 6 p.m. Thursday. A third applicant, Justice of the Peace and former county supervisor Ray Carroll, withdrew from the process last week and endorsed Davidson.

To view the forum, click here.

Ford. who was first elected as treasurer in 2000, is set to retire early on April 13 and the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to appoint a new treasurer at an April 16 meeting.

The Treasurer’s Office essentially serves as a bank for county government and many other Pima County jurisdictions, including school districts and fire districts. The office takes in property tax payments and divides them according to the tax rates of various jurisdictions. Other state and federal dollars also flow through the office, which typically handles between $1.5 billion to $2 billion in assets at any given time.

Ford said she hired Ackerley, who is the only Republican seeking the office in the November election, in order to train someone to be able to take over the office upon her retirement and told the Sentinel that many operations within the office have been updated in the eight years since Davidson left.

“We’ve changed a lot of things in the office since Patti left over eight years ago. And she only worked in the tax area,” Ford said. “She really never got involved with any of the things that we do as far as the accounting and all the investment of the funds and the money side of what the Treasurer’s Office is doing.”

Davidson said she was confident she could step into the role.

“I would have no problem. jumping in and going full, full bore,” Davidson said.

Ford’s concerns were echoed by another former chief deputy and IT director in the Treasurer’s Office, Steven J. Ponzo, who wrote a letter to the board saying that while he found Davidson to be “dependable, dedicated and hard-working,” he warned her appointment as treasurer “would be problematic. … Patti’s managerial, organizational and people-skills are incompatible with a multi-function organization like the Treasurer’s Office and would jeopardize the organization’s efficiency and effectiveness.”

Ponzo said that Davidson was reluctant to embrace new computer programs and she would often focus on working on the front counter to take taxpayer payments instead of focusing on her “high-priority tasks.”

“As her stress levels increased, her people-skills erupted,” Ponzo wrote. “She often sharply criticized staff in front of staff, taxpayers and business colleagues.”

Ford said she asked Davidson to resign because “she wasn’t doing the job up to my expectations.”

As one example, Ford recalled that when she was out of the office caring for her ill husband, she heard complaints about the management of the office.

“Unfortunately, when my husband was dying of cancer and was in hospice, I was unable to be in the office,” Ford said. “And there were things that were not being done or being done inappropriately. And I received complaints from staff about her behavior in the office.”

Davidson said that comments that she was a poor manager were “not true.”

“The office ran very smoothly, and I did take care of the office while she was out taking care of her husband for quite some time,” Davidson said. “So I was not aware of any of these problems.”

She pointed out that she worked for Ford for many years before Ford asked her to leave.

“I was in an appointed position for 15-and-a-half years,” said Davidson, who transferred to the county’s Finance Department, where she worked until she retired from the county after a 25-year career. “She had the opportunity at any point in time to let me go.”

Ford said in her letter that her major concern is seeing the Treasurer Office continue to function smoothly.

“I have dedicated myself to the Treasurer’s Office,” Ford wrote to the board. “It has been my love for the last 24 years. It has been gratifying to watch it turn into an efficient office serving the public from the mess it was in when I was first elected.”

She said she hired Ackerley specifically to be her hand-picked successor and he was ready to take the reins.

“I was trying to do succession planning,” Ford told the Sentinel. “I found somebody that wanted to run for the office that I could train and give them exposure. … I tried to do the right thing.”

Whatever the outcome of the appointment process, Ackerley is set to face the winner of the July 30 Democratic primary between Sami Hamed and Brian Johnson. For more on the race, click here.