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Tue, March 19

Treasurer says attacks politically motivated

Mohave County Treasurer Lee Fabrizio inside his office Wednesday.<br> JC AMBERLYN/Miner

Mohave County Treasurer Lee Fabrizio inside his office Wednesday.<br> JC AMBERLYN/Miner

KINGMAN - County Treasurer Lee Fabrizio believes that recent attacks on him and his office were politically motivated, despite comments to the contrary from the County Manager's Office and Board of Supervisors Chairman Pete Byers.

The whole issue started with a grievance filed against Fabrizio's former chief deputy, Janet Barker, by Melissa Havatone, an employee in the Treasurer's Office and a candidate for the treasurer's seat.

"Janet and Melissa were the best of friends," he said. "Everything was going along fine between the two of them until about November of 2007, when Melissa announced she was going to run for office."

Havatone filed to run for the Treasurer's seat in January.

In March, things heated up in the office when Barker and Fabrizio received a letter from the state's Office of the Auditor General. According to the letter, the Auditor General had not received a reconciliation report from the Mohave County Treasurer's Office for the past six months.

The report details how the office invests and spends the county's money. The report has a big effect on the county's bond rating. The county sells bonds in order to help pay for capital improvement and other projects. The higher the bond rating, the better the price the county will get on its bonds and the more money the county will have for its projects.

"This was the first time this has happened to the county in several years," he said.

According to Fabrizio, Havatone is in charge of making sure the reports are completed and turned in. When he and Barker found out the reports had not been turned in, they went to see Havatone.

Havatone told them that she was so busy with other projects Fabrizio and Barker had been giving her that she had fallen behind in the reports, Fabrizio said.

"We offered her the help of two other employees, but she wouldn't accept it," he said. "It still wasn't getting done.

"We finally took her off all her other duties and just put her on the reports," Fabrizio said.

They also put her on special observation, a kind of probationary period.

Around the same time ,Havatone requested paid time off to attend a conference. According to Fabrizio, Barker told Havatone that she would approve the time off if Havatone managed to finish all the reconciliation reports.

When the time came, the reports were not finished and Barker refused to let Havatone go. The Mohave County Human Resources Department recommended that Fabrizio let Havatone take her time off and Havatone was allowed to go. On April 29, Havatone filed a grievance against the office alleging that Barker had created a hostile work environment.

This is not the first time that Havatone has failed to file the reports and acted out to a supervisor, according to Fabrizio.

He pointed to several e-mails the previous treasurer, Dora Goodmiller, wrote to Havatone in 2004. In the e-mails Havatone requests some time off around the Thanksgiving holiday and then asks why it is denied.

Goodmiller writes in one e-mail, dated Nov. 26, 2004, "A factor in whether to grant you vacation time was the fact that you had let your bank statements go for four months."

Goodmiller also states in the same e-mail, "I have observed that you are not willing to share your knowledge with others. You must be willing to work with everyone, in order to grow. We do not have to like or be friends with everyone outside the office but, we do have to get along with our coworkers during office hours."

She also wrote to Havatone, "You do not deal well with supervision. You need to realize it and make a better effort to work with your supervisor and department head for the betterment and advancement of yourself.

Thinking back, Fabrizio said that hiring Barker may not have been the best for some people in the office.

"She's a very in-your-face type of person," he said. On the other hand, she was instrumental in helping the office make nearly $8 million for the county through investments.

Fabrizio said he had heard rumblings of discontent before Havatone filed the grievance and tried to head off trouble. "I had an employee come to me and say that they and some other employees had some problems, but they wouldn't say who the others were or what the problem was," he said. "What do you expect me to do?"

He brought Barker into his office to speak to her and sent her for coaching with the Human Resources Department.

It was in mid-May that he took the issue to Human Resources Department Director Ray Osuna. According to Fabrizio, Osuna suggested letting the Human Resource Department look into the issue. He asked Fabrizio for at least three weeks to do the investigation. It usually takes around a week to investigate a complaint, Fabrizio said.

"I should have done it myself," Fabrizio said.

Once the Human Resources Department started its investigation, Fabrizio was left in the dark. "I called him (Osuna) several times about the report and never got an answer. I finally gave up," Fabrizio said.

According to the grievance report, 28 of the 30 employees in the office were interviewed.

"I was never interviewed," Fabrizio said. "I didn't know what was going on until I got a letter from Byers."

The letter, dated July 25, stated that the Board was considering suspending Fabrizio due to his leadership and management performance and his involvement with the grievance.

Fabrizio's attorneys pointed out in a letter dated Aug. 1 to the Board that according to state statute, an elected official can only be suspended for financial malfeasance or neglect of duty.

Fabrizio is still puzzled how a grievance filed against his deputy led to his possible suspension.

"The timing is awfully suspicious," he said. He feels that accusations of poor management and the possible suspension are politically motivated for three reasons.

First, Fabrizio, along with County Assessor Ron Nicholson, tried to help Marc Goldstone, the leader of Arizona Tax Revolt, with his property tax initiatives. Goldstone wanted to help Arizona property taxpayers by limiting the rates of secondary property taxes.

Second, Fabrizio had asked the County Office of Management and Budget to conduct a workflow study of his office. Fabrizio said he suspended the study after he hired Barker, because he wasn't sure how the job duties in the office would change.

Third, he believes that the County Manager's Office was upset because he temporarily opened an office to collect payments in the Colorado City area.

He also questions Byers' commitment to protect employees who participated in the grievance investigation.

"If he was so concerned about them, why did he throw the report out into the public domain?" Fabrizio said.

Fabrizio also questioned some of the statements in the investigation report. He said more than a few employees have come to him to say that their statements were twisted, things were taken out of context and other comments were left out entirely.

As to comments about his golfing and his management style, "I was on the golf course a lot," he said. "But I always knew what was going on."

Fabrizio said he often gets into his office around 8 or 9 a.m., he leaves around 1 p.m. for lunch and maybe some golf, but returns before 4:30 p.m. and works late. Sometimes he works from home with a computer that is connected to his office, he said.

"It is not my job to look over some cashier's shoulder," he said.

Fabrizio also said that according to state statute, it is his office's responsibility to approve investment firms the county uses. Merrill Lynch, a firm that the Board claims the Treasurer's Office was not approved to invest with, was approved by the Treasurer's Office to electronically store the county's investments in 2006.

The firm does not buy or sell investments for the county. It merely keeps track of which ones the county currently owns.

Merrill Lynch was approved well before Barker was hired, and the firm does not charge the county for the storage service, Fabrizio said. Therefore, the county did not have to go out for bid for the service.

On Aug. 4, the Board of Supervisors decided to take no action against Fabrizio. Fabrizio's attorney cautioned him to wait until after the Board made its decision before speaking to the media.

"But I've got to protect my good name," he said.

Fabrizio hopes that now that the Board has decided, he can put this behind him and return to running his office and his campaign.


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