A state employee of 22 years was fired from the Department of Economic Security and branded an “idiot” by Director Tim Jeffries after objecting to a news report shared with agency staff that the employee felt was purely political in nature.
DES Director Tim Jeffries ordered Andy Hall fired minutes after the former Division of Aging and Adult Services analyst sent his objection to the agency’s communications director, Tasya Peterson. In two emails ordering Hall be fired, Jeffries called Hall “not particularly smart,” an “idiot,” and not a part of “The Team.”
Hall had replied to an agency-wide email, shared by Peterson, of a Yellow Sheet Report breaking news alert announcing Democratic Rep. Ceci Velasquez would not seek re-election. The news alert from the Arizona Capitol Times sister publication came two days after reports that Velasquez had been indicted for food stamp fraud following a DES investigation.
“This is purely politics. It has nothing to do with DES programs,” Hall wrote in an email to Peterson at 11:39 a.m. on June 24.
The reaction from Jeffries, to whom Peterson immediately forwarded the message, was swift. Twenty-one minutes later, he sent an email to Todd Bright, then deputy director of operations at DES, and other top-level staff.
“It is abundantly clear that this colleague is not on The Team, and he is not particularly smart either,” Jeffries wrote at noon. “Move him out by next Friday. He made the decision to self-select out. It’s an absolute shame.”
In less than half an hour, the timetable for firing Hall sped up drastically.
Peterson had written back to Hall that the Yellow Sheet news alert had a “direct link to the DES (Office of the Inspector General) investigation” that resulted in Velasquez’s indictment.
“Actually this is just about Democratic Party politics. Please stick to DES business,” Hall replied at 12:06 p.m.
Having seen Hall’s second email, which Peterson also immediately forwarded, Jeffries changed his mind.
“Todd, this guy is an idiot. Move him out, preferably now today, latest Tuesday,” Jeffries wrote to Bright and others at 12:26 p.m.
Hall was gone on June 27, the next business day.
Hall said he was shocked he was fired “just because I have an opinion about something. Certainly it never crossed my mind that such a reaction would occur. I never thought at the time my job was on the line if I replied to Tasya Peterson the way I did.”
Roughly 500 DES employees have been fired from DES since Jan. 1, 2015 – Jeffries was appointed head of the agency by Gov. Doug Ducey in February 2015. The governor recently stripped Jeffries of his power to fire employees after reports by the Arizona Republic raised questions about why Jeffries had fired so many state workers and why a majority of those fired were old enough to receive protections from age discrimination under federal law.
Most former DES employees can only speculate as to why they were fired by Jeffries, since most are at-will employees, and according to state law are not entitled to appeal rights.
Hall was not given an explanation by DES officials for why he was fired on June 27. Hall said he was called into a room that afternoon and given a termination letter by an apologetic human resources representative who had not been given an explanation of Hall’s termination, either. Hall said he was initially stunned – a state employee for more than two decades, he was among the many DES workers who’d received merit pay increases in each of the past two years, and told the Capitol Times his performance record was exemplary.
Later that day, Hall said it dawned on him the only reason could be his email to Peterson.
Emails obtained by the Capitol Times make it clear that Hall was fired for speaking out to top brass at DES, confirming the fears of some current and former DES staffers who worried they, too, would be fired if they didn’t fall in line with what Jeffries called “The Team.”
Essentially, Hall made the mistake of expressing his opinion.
Like all of the agency’s roughly 7,500 employees, Hall had for three days been sent multiple emails from the DES communications staff, all relaying press releases and news reports, including one from Fox News, about Velasquez.
Two such emails stuck out to Hall: Breaking news alerts from Yellow Sheet.
The first, on June 23, reported that House Minority Leader Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley, had asked Velasquez to resign in light of her indictment for food stamp fraud. The second, on June 24, detailed Velasquez’s decision not to seek re-election in the fall. The news alert seemed strictly political to Hall, he said, and it came from a source he’d never heard of.
“I looked (Yellow Sheet Report) up, and the way that it’s described on the website is that it’s a tip sheet. And actually the word gossip is used to describe the content,” Hall said. “And that struck me as inappropriate that the director would forward Democratic Party gossip to the entire workforce.”
Scared to speak out
Jeffries has preached his openness and transparency to DES staffers. After coming under fire in August for using his DES email to send religious messages to agency employees, Jeffries penned an agency-wide email to “the Haters in Our Great DES.”
Jeffries urged employees who may disagree with his personal views – among other things, he incorporates Catholicism into routine messages to agency staff – to “cease your covert attacks, and simply engage me directly so we can learn from each other. Many others have done this. The conversations, the give and take, the back and forth have been awesome. Take a leap like others, and reach out to me.”
Karin Grandon, a former DES administrator, said approaching Jeffries with any concern was out of the question.
“God no, I would never have had that conversation with him,” Grandon, 55, said of Hall’s email. “There was definitely a sense that you really needed to be on board with his philosophy, and if you weren’t you just kept quiet.”
Hall said he felt the agency-wide sharing of the content from the Yellow Sheet had crossed a line – it was no longer about the indictment, but the political fallout affecting the state Democratic Party. That, and the fact that the source of the news described itself as gossip, “stuck in my craw,” he said.
“It may have been the fact that this was a Democratic legislator that had been indicted,” said Hall, a registered Democrat who said he hasn’t gotten around to changing his registration to independent. “I felt like he might be relishing the fact that it was a Democratic legislator. That was a problem, a factor in my thinking.”
Grandon, a DES staffer for 17 years, said she was one of many employees who were fired under similarly-questionable circumstances. Given no reason for her exit from the agency, Grandon was given a choice of being fired or signing a pre-written resignation letter. She chose to resign, about three years prior to reaching retirement benefits.
Firings such as hers and Hall’s contribute to what she described as a “culture of fear” at DES, leaving many current employees scared to speak out about Jeffries’ conduct.
“If you say something, you’re gone immediately,” said Grandon, who kept quiet even as she watched beloved colleagues get fired without explanation. “We weren’t, I call them disciples. But we were always respectful.”
Shortly after she was terminated in August, Grandon said she would miss her work with visually-impaired and hard-of-hearing Arizonans, who she helped find employment.
“My whole career has been understanding how important work is to people,” Grandon told the Capitol Times. “If you’ve lost your job traumatically, you don’t have time to grieve for that… It’s a really traumatic thing for people to lose something that defines who they are.”
Jeffries was not made available for an interview. Peterson issued a statement regarding Hall’s termination, but declined to answer why his emailed objection was cause to immediately fire him.
“DES wishes Mr. Hall well in his future endeavors. He was an at-will employee, and he has every right to contact the Department of Administration if he seeks further clarification,” Peterson said.
Shortly after Hall was fired in June, he told the Capitol Times that he wanted an apology and his job back.
Hall, 69, said he’s now retired, and uncertain if he’ll contact the Department of Administration to protest his firing. Ducey has pledged to allow employees to appeal their termination by calling ADOA’s human-resources office.
Hall’s certain he no longer wants his old job back.
“Not as long as Jeffries is there,” he said.