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40 workers fired by ex-DES chief may get jobs back

Department of Economic Security director Tim Jeffries stands outside his office, adorned with a "Director J :)" sign. (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)

Ex-Department of Economic Security director Tim Jeffries stands outside his office, adorned with a “Director J :)” sign. (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)

Forty workers let go by the now-fired head of the Department of Economic Security got an early Christmas gift Friday: They’re going to get their jobs back.

Or at least something close to that.

But they’re not going to get the pay they missed.

Megan Rose, spokeswoman for the Department of Administration, which runs the state’s personnel system, said her agency had received 267 requests from former DES workers to review their firings.

That came after Gov. Doug Ducey set up the procedure on the heels of reports that Tim Jeffries had let go about 500 workers out of more than 7,000 at the agency since the governor appointed him last year.

Rose said after each of the 267 cases was “carefully evaluated,” it was determined there were 40 who “were separated in a manner that did not follow the best practices of (the agency’s) Human Resources Division.”

Rose said the former workers will be contacted before the end of the year with an offer to re-hire them into their previous positions, assuming they’re still available.

“If that position is filled or no longer exists, we will work to place them in a comparable position for which they are qualified. At a minimum, they will receive their previous salary,” she said.

The workers will also come back with the sick time they had accumulated before they will let go. But Rose said they will not get the money they would have earned had they not been fired.

Friday’s action could finally be the end of what has been a controversial end to Jeffries’ reign at the agency.

Ducey hired Jeffries shortly after taking office, saying he would help streamline the huge agency, which oversees a host of programs from food stamps and welfare benefits to unemployment insurance. It also is responsible for investigating cases of adult abuse. (DES’s child abuse functions had previously been taken from the agency, then under a different director, because of mismanagement.)

Jeffries began weeding people out almost immediately.

“We have already exited scores of legacy bullies in our great agency, and we will not relent until we have finished this task to honor, protect, and care for you,” he wrote in a memo to employees last year.

He generated headlines with offers to DES staffers to take their messages in his trip to the Catholic holy shrine of Lourdes, and emails promoting only the opposition to Proposition 205, which would have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

But the scrutiny intensified after it was revealed that Jeffries had fired close to 500 workers, including many who had previously received high evaluations and even raises. That raised allegations that the director was targeting women, minorities, older workers and gays.

It got to the point that Ducey removed Jeffries’ power to fire workers. The governor also set up a process allowing those who already were let go to petition to get their jobs back.

The apparent last straw for the governor came last month on reports that Jeffries had flown to Nogales on a state plane and took several staffers out drinking at a Nogales restaurant during business hours. Jeffries was celebrating the fact these workers had agreed to become “at will” employees, which means they could be fired for no reason at all.

But gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato said there was no single reason for the ouster, saying it came following a review of his tenure and actions at the agency.

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