Arizona State Parks Can be fixed – if Gov. Doug Ducey is willing. Will he Accept?

Source:  Linda Valdez, Arizona Republic – December 2, 2018

Opinion: Not all the problems at Arizona State Parks happened on Ducey’s watch. But the remedy is up to him.

Here’s one constituent letter

Ducey can turn it into a love letter to all of Arizona and a down payment on his legacy.

The constituent letter comes from the Arizona Heritage Alliance, an impressive group of people who know and care about our state’s remarkable cultural, historical and natural treasures.

The letter asks Ducey to restore $10 million a year in Heritage Fund money for Arizona State Parks & Trails. The funds were taken away in 2010.

Parks lack money for maintenance 

Heaven knows, the Parks need money.

  • They no longer get any money from the state’s general fund, and the price of deferred maintenance has been rising for years.

And heaven knows Arizonans wanted the Parks to have the money.

  • The dedicated funding was overwhelmingly approved by voters in a 1990 citizens’ initiative, which tapped the Lottery – not the general fund – for the money.

The letter reiterates how this money was used under the plan spelled out in the citizens’ initiative:

  • For recreation and open space development, restoration or renovation.
  • For outdoor and environmental education initiatives and non-motorized trails.
  • For operation, maintenance or repair of parks and natural areas.
  • For historic preservation and archaeological projects.

The last one is of particular interest.

Former director fired after complaints

In mid-November, Ducey fired former Parks Director Sue Black and her former deputy Jim Keegan.

It came after years of complaints about Black’s management.

It also came as Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich continues investigating whether laws protecting Native American and other archaeological sites were ignored on Black’s watch to facilitate development at the Parks and raise revenue.

These alleged breaches happened after the citizens’ oversight power of the State Parks Board was gutted.

Ducey asked to heal the agency

The letter asks Ducey to “heal the agency, its staff, the State Parks Board, and concerned citizens who care about our natural, cultural, and historic resources.”

He can make this a priority in his second term under the banner of fixing somebody else’s mistake.

After all, the evisceration of the Parks Board in 2012 and the loss of the Parks’ Heritage funding in 2010 both happened before Ducey took office.

What’s more, reversing those changes is a matter of simple fairness.

  • The Arizona Game and Fish Commission, a citizens’ group that sets policy for the Game and Fish Department, retained the power that was stripped from the Parks Board.
  • Game and Fish, which manages Arizona wildlife for hunting, fishing and conservation, also retained its $10 million a year share of Heritage funding, which was included in the original voter-approved initiative.

Why do some outdoor groups get preference?

The so-called “rod and gun” constituency that relies on Game and Fish for their sport has a strong voice in the Legislature – and that’s why that agency retained both citizens’ oversight and Heritage funding. But State Parks have a statewide constituency that, while not as organized, should not be ignored. Hiking, boating, fishing, birding and exploring Native American culture. You can do that and more at these Arizona State Parks. Parks serve an essential role in an increasingly urban Arizona, providing outdoor recreation for everyone and bringing tourism to rural areas.

The State Parks are a vast treasure house of Arizona’s past and present, ranging from the Yuma Territorial Prison to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum to Lake Havasu to Kartchner Caverns to the ancient ruins at Homolovi. Properly protecting and managing this heritage demands a dedicated funding source and good citizen oversight.

How Ducey can make this right

Sure. Sue Black was Ducey’s appointment. That was his mistake.

But two detrimental changes at Parks pre-date Ducey:

  • Unlike previous directors, Black did not answer to a strong and active Parks Board; she clearly needed that kind of citizen scrutiny.
  • What’s more, the rush for development to raise revenue might not have happened if the Parks had retained the Heritage money that Arizona voters wanted them to have.

Ducey can begin fixing those problems and answer the letter from his constituents as he crafts his State of the State speech. He can do it with a pledge to restore the Parks’ share of Heritage Fund money and reinvigorate the Parks Board.

Then he can shepherd those changes through a Legislature that will be more diverse next session and more in need of visionary leadership.

Reach Valdez at linda.valdez@arizonarepublic.com.

That mess at Arizona State Parks? It’s what happens when you eviscerate the Parks Board

Source:  Editorial by Linda Valdez; Arizona Republic – November 23, 2018

Arizona’s State Parks got tangled in a big mess on Gov. Doug Ducey’s watch. But he has the tools to fix this.

  • One is the bully pulpit.
  • The other is the State Parks Board, a once-powerful body that has been reduced to lapdog status.

“When I was director, the board had authority over everything,” said Ken Travous, who served as parks director from 1986 to 2009. “I served at the pleasure of the board.” That changed. The Parks Board’s authority to hire and fire the director ended in 2012 with GOP Gov. Jan Brewer’s state personnel reform, which was designed to simplify how state employees are hired and fired. In practice, it made it easier to fire state workers. The change in Parks Board authority was included in the bill, even though Parks Board members serve without pay.

How are those reforms working out?

So how’s that change working out?

Black and former Deputy Director Jim Keegan were fired by Gov. Ducey Nov. 16, after years of allegations of mismanagement that were reported by The Republic’s Craig Harris. A criminal investigation is ongoing by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich into allegations that laws protecting Native American and other archaeological sites were ignored under Black’s leadership to facilitate development at State Parks.

A strong Parks Board could’ve stopped Black

Black’s behavior has been the subject of state personnel investigations. Allegations of misbehavior by Black included showing up drunk at public functions, violating procurement rules and berating workers.

“I cannot imagine a board in my time not reacting strongly to those charges against a director,” said Bill Roe, who served on the board from 1986 to 1998, when directors answered to the board. But today’s Parks Board had no power over Black, and Ducey stood by her until she became too great of a political liability.

A strong Parks Board could have acted more decisively. And a strong board is what was intended when the Arizona State Parks system was created in 1957. With seven members appointed by the governor, it has operated effectively under administrations of both parties. It earned a reputation as an engaged board that provided oversight, reviewed budgets, scrutinized policy changes and assured that the public had a voice in the running of State Parks.

The board only met 4 times this year

But the board, which met nearly monthly before the 2012 personnel reform eviscerated it, has sharply curtailed the number of meetings in recent years. It held two meetings in 2016, four in 2017 and four so far this year. “It used to have a much more prominent role in administering the parks,” says the Sierra Club’s Sandy Bahr, who has been active in Arizona resource and environmental issues for decades. The Parks Board was a “forum for listening to the public,” a place for people to raise concerns about Parks’ management and get answers. “Now the public finds things out after the fact,” Bahr said.

In 2015, the board itself ceded more power when it gave the Parks director sole authority to hire and fire employees. Brnovich, who then served on the board, was “the lone dissenting voice” in that vote, says Ryan Anderson, spokesman for the AG’s office. Brnovich resigned from the board later that year.

They gave the director even more power

Former Parks Deputy Director Jay Ream recalls: “Brnovich warned the Parks Board not to authorize the director to hire and fire. They gave it to her and a week later I was gone … I was fired by Sue Black.” He had been been deputy director for nearly two decades.

Was is fair? Was it justified? A powerful Parks Board with its former authority would have demanded good answers. Firing a longtime employee would not have been solely up to a director. Keegan, who subsequently held Ream’s old position at Parks, was fired by Ducey along with Black amid allegations that the department expedited development by ignoring archaeological protection. The Parks Board might have prevented these problems. It would have assured public oversight before the fact – not after. Recent statutory and other changes have taken management of Arizona’s State Parks from the “community perspective to an authoritarian model,” says Travous. It hasn’t worked.

Here’s how Ducey can fix this

Ducey is in the best position to fix it.

Black’s tenure shows why change is needed, and Ducey can make the case better than anyone. After all, the problems that resulted after Brewer’s personnel reform weakened the Parks Board were not Ducey’s doing. But he saw the consequences and can provide the leadership now.

  • The governor should begin by involving the Parks Board in hiring a new Parks director.
  • He should encourage the board to have regular meetings.
  • He should drop the idea of eliminating the board, which he supported previously, and let the board know he expects members to be engaged.
  • Ducey should build on lawmakers’ understanding of the importance of a public body in land management. After all, the same law that removed the Parks Board’s authority to hire the director specifically retained that power for the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, which sets policy for the Game and Fish Department, and has long had strong support at the Legislature.
  • Ducey should work to restore the State Parks’ share of Lottery money from the Heritage Fund, which was created by voters in 1990 to provide $10 million annually each to Parks and Game and Fish. The Parks’ money was taken during the recession. Game and Fish kept its allotment.
  • Ducey can rally public support for stewardship of the state treasures and use it as leverage to move changes through the Legislature.

This is about your legacy, governor

If he does this, Ducey’s legacy as governor will include restoring a Parks’ oversight system that served the state well for decades and assured precious state resources – natural, prehistoric and historic – were wisely managed in full public view with public accountability.

The alternative?

Ducey can refuse to change course and let the next governor earn hero’s status by restoring what will be lost on his watch.

Reach Valdez at linda.valdez@arizonarepublic.com.

State Parks Bulldozed Archaeological Sites for Cabins, Trails, Ex-agency Archaeologist Says

Source: Craig Harris, Arizon Republic – October 29, 2018

Arizona State Parks & Trails has dug up and bulldozed Native American and other archaeological sites without preserving artifacts in a rush to build visitor attractions and make money, a state archaeologist claims. In one case, Parks unearthed ancient stone tools and caused “irreversible” damage to a site dating back 12,000 years, according to agency memos.

The archaeologist, Will Russell, told The Arizona Republic he repeatedly cautioned Parks officials that
the work could violate the law and destroy artifacts, but he was overruled and even threatened by top agency managers, including Parks Director Sue Black. “There are dozens of archaeological sites that have been wrecked” because Parks officials didn’t want to delay development plans, Russell told The Republic. Russell left his job with Parks on Oct. 15 and now works for another state agency.

A high-ranking administrator in Gov. Doug Ducey’s administration appeared to share Russell’s concerns in a July 25 email obtained by The Republic.  Interim Parks Deputy Director Bret Parke wrote about cultural resources “being impacted by development projects,” according to the email. Parke warned the agency in bold letters to not proceed “with any land disturbance without getting clearance” from Russell. Copied on Parke’s email were Black, a Department of Administration executive and Russell.

Russell said agency planners ignored that warning, and in mid-September Parke was moved from Parks to the Department of Environmental Quality, where he had previously worked. Megan Rose, spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Administration, said ADOA is “actively reviewing the allegations brought forth by Dr. Russell,” and could not comment further. Multiple attempts to reach Parke were unsuccessful. A spokeswoman for DEQ declined to let Parke comment. Black, subject of three separate state investigations for mistreating employees, declined repeated requests for comment.

Russell said he took his concerns directly to Parke, the interim deputy director, who also was a lawyer at ADOA and has close ties to Gov. Doug Ducey and officials in the Governor’s Office. Russell called it curious that ADOA was only now investigating his claims — after officials became aware that he had talked to The Republic.  Parks spokeswoman Michelle Thompson declined to answer questions because Russell’s allegations are “under review.” Thompson did not elaborate. Paula Pflepsen, an archaeologist who was Park’s cultural resource manager until she quit in February 2017, said she had the same concerns about work at the agency.

‘Dozens’ of sites wrecked

Russell said disagreements over preservation grew so intense Black stormed into his office one day last
spring and yelled at him. She cocked her arm with a clenched fist, threatening to hit him, he said. Russell said as a result he was rarely permitted to leave the agency’s central office to conduct archaeological surveys or do damage assessments at the state’s 35 parks. He also wasn’t allowed to communicate with field staff or other governmental agencies, he said. “The agency’s mission is to protect and preserve natural and cultural resources, but we aren’t doing any of that. We are just putting up cabins and making money,” Russell said. “One of her favorite adages is ask for forgiveness rather than permission. But she doesn’t even ask for forgiveness, and she certainly never tries to go back and fix problems.”

Russell claims that under Black’s direction, the agency:

  • Built a garden in an archaeological site at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, north of Payson, after being told to wait for an archaeological investigation. Russell noted in an April 14 memo to three Parks executives that the damage affected historic properties and “is irreversible, was not authorized, and was not monitored by a qualified archaeologist.” The memo also says work at the site exposed artifacts including “two lithic tools.” The site likely has “been visited or occupied over the span of 12 millenia or more,” and could have provided information about Apache subsistence and demography that has “thus far eluded Southwestern archaeologists,” he wrote.
  • Expanded a picnic area into a historical homestead site at Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon, north of Sedona. In March 16 memo, Russell noted a historic roadway ended at a large area that had been bulldozed and unauthorized development work had been done, causing “land disturbance.” “This is a serious violation of several statutes, policies and acceptable practices,” Russell wrote. “If an ancestral Native American sited had been damaged, it would have added considerable liability.”
  • Built a trail in 2016 at Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park near Yarnell that went through a Native American archaeological site after being warned not to. Russell said when he tried to address the problem, Black rebuffed his efforts and removed him from his role as tribal liaison.
  • Refused to allow employees responsible for environmental or archaeological compliance to do their jobs.

Walter “Skip” Varney, the agency’s former chief of development, called Russell “very reputable” in his field. Varney, who left Parks in May, confirmed all of Russell’s allegations except those involving the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park, saying in that case proper procedures were followed. Varney said Russell’s greatest concern “was to make sure we took care of archaeological sites and did it properly.” “She (Black) was frustrated with the archaeological process,” said Varney, who once served as Black’s deputy director. “She wanted to get projects on the ground, and she and Will went back and forth. … It was all about new development and squeezing in as many campsites and trailers.”

State law prohibits defacing sites

The Arizona Antiquities Act outlines how archaeological and paleontological discoveries on state land should be reported and handled. It prohibits defacing protected sites and artifacts. Russell said county attorneys, the state Attorney General and U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecute alleged violations of that law, depending on where the violations are alleged to have occurred.  Pflepsen said Parks, under Black, regularly violated the state Antiquities Act in order to generate additional development revenue. Parks would have to ask authorities for such an investigation.

Russell said he raised his concerns with the State Historic Preservation Office, which assists entities in complying with historic preservation laws. SHPO is also under Black’s jurisdiction. State Historic Preservation Officer Kathryn Leonard said she was unable to comment without Black’s authorization. The agency did not allow Leonard to speak to The Republic. Russell also made his complaints known to various tribes and federal agencies during his roughly one year on the job.

‘What is your true intention?’

The most heated exchange between Russell and Black arose from his questions about Parks land near Lake Havasu, slated for development as the Havasu Riviera resort.  Russell said the land was bulldozed without proper archaeological compliance.

When Russell posed questions about the site in a March 29 memo to state and federal agencies and several Native American tribes, he said Black stormed into his office and screamed at him.  “She said ‘How dare you do this? This is a $300 million project, and you could have derailed the whole thing,'” Russell said. “Then she leaned over me with a clenched fist and said, ‘What is your true intention?'”

Russell said Deputy Director Jim Keegan the next day forced him to sign an apology letter to those agencies and tribes and retract his concerns. The terse, four-paragraphletter, which Russell said he did not write, states he had not “exhausted all of my internal resources in researching the background on the project” and that he didn’t follow proper protocol. The statement, on Parks letterhead, refers questions to Keegan, a longtime friend of Black’s who has a felony criminal record.

The style of writing in the apology letter differs greatly from the technical writings of Russell in hundreds of other documents he provided to The Republic. Russell said Keegan wouldn’t let him leave the building to pick up his children until he signed the letter, and he was afraid Black would fire him. Russell said he signed it after insisting that some of the grammar be corrected.  In retrospect, Russell said he’s embarrassed he signed the letter. “I never should have allowed that to happen,” he said. Keegan, when reached Thursday on his personal cellphone, referred questions to Thompson, the agency spokeswoman. She declined to comment.

Rapid turnover continues at Parks

Russell became the 36th full-time employee to leave the agency this year. The agency has 179 employees; 118 have quit or been fired since Ducey appointed Black in February 2015, according to public records obtained by The Republic. After The Republic requested comment regarding Russell’s claims the Governor’s Office said in a statement Wednesday that the allegations are “under review.”

“This administration cares deeply about protecting and preserving Arizona’s history and we expect our agencies to conduct their operations accordingly. We’ve also placed priority on forging strong relationships with Arizona tribes and the Native American community at all levels of state government,” said Daniel Ruiz, a spokesman for Ducey. Black has during her tenure faced numerous allegations of inappropriate and disrespectful behavior, including berating employees in front of other staff, disclosing confidential information, using racial slurs, getting drunk and belligerent while representing the agency at conferences, and trying to circumvent the state procurement code.

The allegations have led to three investigations, but Black has faced no discipline other than to have one of Ducey’s top administrators counsel her on how to treat employees.  Russell, 46, is the first former employee to publicly accuse Black of ignoring state and federal laws to boost revenue at Parks and has released documents to support his claims. He provided The Republic with hundreds of records, including some that were redacted. He said some of the issues arose before he started working at Parks in June 2017.

‘She doesn’t think compliance laws apply to her’

Despite a stream of controversies at Parks, Duceyhas continued to stand behind Black, praising her efforts to raise revenue at the agency and citing her winning a national award even as she has faced investigations of allegations that she has mistreating staff.  Ducey gave her a raise of more than 9 percent in November 2016, bringing her annual pay to $175,000. Black’s predecessor was paid $136,000 annually. The agency has distributed several photos of a smiling Ducey with Black, who is holding the award recognizing the nation’s best-run state parks program.  Ducey’s campaign spokesman, Daniel Scarpinato, declined to answer questions about the latest allegations against Black.

After leaving Parks this month, Russell, who studied anthropology at Arizona State University, where he earned his Ph.D. in 2016, was hired to do similar work for the state Department of Transportation. “All Sue Black cares about is her image and making money,” Russell said. “She doesn’t think compliance laws apply to her. She doesn’t think she needs permits to excavate or to do (archaeological) surveys. And she sees no point in collaborating with tribes.” Russell also questioned why Ducey keeps Black in her job in the face of yet another investigation into her treatment of staff. He said Black continually berated employees, including him. “She calls herself the Teflon director. She think she’s above the law. And thus far, she’s right,” he said. “Nothing sticks on her. The hubris is unreal.”

Reach the reporter at craig.harris@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8478 or on Twitter @charrisazrep.

Baby boomers retire here for the hiking, yet Arizona starves its parks. How smart is that?

Source:  Opinion by Linda Valdez – Arizona Republic – azcentral.com – September 17, 2018

Opinion: Arizona’s environment is an asset. Yet we are starving the state parks that provide exactly
what baby boomers say they want from us.  Arizona’s has a fast horse in the race to attract Baby Boomer retirees. But our state is starving the poor beast. Recent census figures put Arizona second only to Florida as a destination for today’s retirees, according to reporting by The Republic’s Catherine Reagor. And what is at the top of the list of what these retirees want? — Hiking. It’s the great outdoors that Baby Boomer retirees crave, and we’ve got plenty of it. But we aren’t taking care of it.

Consider:

  • The total operating budget for Arizona’s State Parks was $29 million in fiscal 2018, according to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. This is $15 million less than what Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute said was needed in 2009 to operate and maintain the state’s parks.
  • Since 2009, state parks have gotten no general fund money.
  • The parks don’t get to use all of the money they bring in through gate receipts and concessions. That money goes into the State Parks Revenue Fund, which reported total revenue of $20,460,700 in fiscal 2018. Only $14.4 million of it was appropriated back to the parks.
  • More than a decade ago – in 2007 – the parks had fewer visitors and more money. The fiscal 2007 parks budget was $37 million, and that included $27 million from the general fund.
  • During the recession, Arizona’s GOP-controlled Legislature stripped away $10 million a year in Heritage Fund money that had been dedicated to the parks by a 1990 citizens’  initiative. This funding, which came from the Lottery, has not been restored.
  • In 2014, then-Parks Director Bryan Martyn put a $80 million price tag on the cost of needed capital improvements in the parks – no-frills things like water lines and septic tanks.
  • Gov. Doug Ducey’s Parks Director Sue Black has faced criticism and investigations over her treatment of staff, according to reporting by The Republic’s Craig Harris. Concerns about her leadership remain but have not been resolved.

Open spaces mean economic growth

This isn’t just about the spiritual, emotional and psychological benefits nature provides to those who take the time to get out into the wide open spaces. This is about cold, hard cash. It’s about planning for an economically sustainable future. Arizona’s environment is an asset. It attracts people. That’s increasingly true as the large cohort of Baby Boomers look for retirement options that include outdoor experiences. Our State Parks include first-class natural, archaeological and historical sites. The parks need to be properly maintained to conserve the resource and give visitors a first-class experience.

It’s a National Parks problem, too

Arizona’s parks – along with Arizona’s wealth of National Parks and other federal lands – give us an edge in attracting Baby Boomer retirees who have money to spend on an outdoor lifestyle. And guess what? There’s a problem at the national level, too. The Restore Our National Parks and Public Lands Act of 2018 aims to begin spending on deferred maintenance on federal public lands. The price tag in Arizona alone is $531 million, including $330 million in needed maintenance at Grand Canyon National Park. Democratic Reps. Raul Grijalva and Kyrsten Sinema are original sponsors. Other Arizona House members signed on are Democratic Reps. Tom O’Halleran and Ruben Gallego, as well as Republicans Andy Biggs and Debbie Lesko. The bill is not moving.

Arizona’s missed opportunity

Meanwhile, back in Arizona, Ducey and his Republican colleagues in our Legislature like to talk about their commitment to economic development. But they lack awareness of how to market and maintain Arizona’s natural assets. They are systematically starving the horse that can help us win the national competition for retirees who want exactly what our state parks offer.