The Pinal County Airport Economic Development (AED) Department is responsible for the development and management of two airports in the County. San Manuel Airport is a General Aviation Airport that is located in the town of San Manuel.

Pinal Airpark is a reliever airport whose main tenant, Evergreen Maintenance, performs maintenance service on aircraft as well as aircraft storage. It is located just north of the City of Marana.

The Internal Audit Officer of Pinal County recently issued a searing critique of the Airport Economic Development (AED) Department, citing under-billing of rents, incorrect calculations of lease amounts, lack of due diligence regarding insurance coverage by tenants, lack of operating standards, lack of a facility business plan and lack of policies and procedures for proper revenue management.

The AED Department, established in 2002, the same year Director, Jim Petty was hired by then County Manager Stan Griffis (who spent some time in prison for his activities) to manage AED.  However, two successive individuals reporting directly to the prior county managers handled billing.  These two people are no longer with the county. But the damage has been done.

The Auditor found the AED billing and accounts receivable process to be essentially non-existent. Since 1999, the county has under-billed lease payments to Evergreen Maintenance Center by a whopping $741,167. The Pinal Air Park lease represents 42 percent of the total AED budget.

Where were the prior county managers, Stan Griffis and Terry Doolittle? And where were the Boards of Supervisors? Who was watching the store?

Gone are the days where a department director or manager can say, “no problem, it’s taken care of.”  Gone are the days of looking the other way or going along to get along. For county taxpayers, three-quarters of a million dollars lost is serious money.  Every Pinal County taxpayer must be reassured that this level of incompetence and waste will never occur again.

To be fair, the current county manager, Fritz Behring, has been doing a good job rooting out long buried problems. Unfortunately, Pinal County has a long history of corruption and incompetence.  Lori Stripling, Internal Audit Officer, and her staff deserve kudos for exposing the incompetence and apparent malfeasance. Behring deserves kudos for backing Stripling when lower management attempted to stall management’s audit response.

These problems should never have occurred. In the private sector, managers would be terminated for incompetence and, in this case, malfeasance. The public sector management must be as equally responsible as private sector management. 

The problems are now public. County Manager Fritz Behring must follow up on this audit. He came to Pinal County with a reputation for solving problems.  More than Behring’s actions, though, is the necessity for independent verification that the Auditor’s recommendations have been implemented, including those recommendations directed at the Board of Supervisors. This is Behring’s responsibility and I believe he will follow through accordingly.

The Pinal County Board of Supervisors and executive management must understand that managers can delegate responsibility but they cannot delegate accountability. The proverbial buck stops with every level of management, to include every elected Constitutional officer.

Most importantly, every verified correction must be communicated to the citizens of Pinal County so public trust in its officials is not only maintained, but also strengthened.  Pinal County can never return to the old ways of doing things.

County Manager Fritz Behring’s charge must be to change the very culture of Pinal County government.

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