Maricopa County officials voted March 29 to give their lawyers permission to file a lawsuit to determine whether a $456,000 bus that the sheriff’s office bought to transport inmates was a legal purchase.
County officials who had questions about the purchase wouldn’t let the bus get titled and insured after the department bought it in October 2008 because the project wasn’t put out for competitive bidding, said County Manager David Smith.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio has defended the purchase, saying only he has the power to spend the special jail funds used to buy the bus, he didn’t need the board’s approval and his office followed the government’s rules on buying equipment.
But an October 2009 report by the county’s audit department said the sheriff’s office didn’t follow the county’s procurement rules in buying the bus because Arpaio’s office didn’t get approval from the board.
Loretta Barkell, the sheriff’s director of business operations, said county officials believed a cheaper bus should have been bought, but the sheriff’s office said the cheaper bus wasn’t dependable.
“We were looking for something that was a lot more reliable,” Barkell said.
For more than a year, the board of supervisors has been at odds with Arpaio over his investigations of county officials.
Arpaio has said he has a duty to pursue credible allegations of corruption in county government, while county officials have said the sheriff has abused his police powers and pointed out that his criminal cases against two county officials were dismissed.
Smith said the board gave its lawyers the go-ahead to file the lawsuit, but he hopes that such a filing could be avoided through negotiations between the board and the company that sold the bus.
“We’d rather just give them the bus back and they give us a check,” Smith said.
He said the target of such a lawsuit would be Motor Coach Industries of Schaumburg, Ill., and that it wouldn’t be filed against the sheriff’s office because the police agency didn’t have the power to make the purchase.
Though it was ordered and nearly entirely paid for in October 2008, the sheriff’s office didn’t take possession of it until May 2009. Since then, it has sat unused on the lot of a sheriff’s complex in south Phoenix.
Calls to Motor Coach Industries weren’t immediately returned March 29.