Maricopa County officials on Wednesday approved Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s 2008 purchase of a $456,000 inmate-transport bus that sat unused for more than two years because it wasn’t put out for competitive bidding.
The Board of Supervisors’ 3-1 vote is a reversal for county officials who previously wouldn’t let the 58-passenger bus get titled or insured after the sheriff’s office bought the vehicle in October 2008 and took possession of it in May 2009. Since then, it has sat unused on the lot of a sheriff’s complex in south Phoenix.
“It is incumbent on us not to let it go to waste,” Supervisor Andy Kunasek said.
The resolution came after County Attorney Bill Montgomery chimed in on the dispute by saying there was no ban on the county titling and registering the vehicle. Montgomery also said Arpaio’s use of special jail funds to buy the bus was permissible.
Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, who opposed the resolution, said the decision marks a bad precedent for county agencies that don’t follow the government’s rules for buying equipment. “I have a philosophical problem with this,” said Wilcox, an Arpaio critic who was investigated by the sheriff’s office.
Arpaio has contended he didn’t need the board’s approval and that his office followed the equipment procurement rules. He said Wednesday he was “encouraged by this step forward.”
The money used to buy the bus wasn’t part of the $103 million in restricted jail funds that Arpaio’s office spent over eight years to pay for other operations, such as some costs for immigration patrols and unsuccessful criminal investigations against county officials.