TUCSON, AZ (KOLD News 13) - Following a stunning reversal of fortunes, Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier calls the county board's decision to once again start accepting federal Stonegarden funding "a victory for good governance."
In 2018, the county board voted to reject the $1.8 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to pay for border enforcement expenses and equipment.
Since then, the issue has been contentious, especially since the sheriff applied for another $1.8 million grant this year.
The county had accepted the grants for 12 consecutive years without questions until last year’s rejection.
In rejecting the money, the county cited border policies, such as separating families, amid concern the Sheriff’s deputies were working as border agents and were racially profiling.
Before accepting the money this year, District 3 Supervisor Sharon Bronson proposed a series of conditions the sheriff must meet.
Those include enhanced transparency, better records and data on where the money is spent and more attention to the issue of racial profiling.
"Those are in my wheelhouse," the sheriff told the board. "I can live with those conditions."
But there was a warning from Bronson - “If this information is not provided satisfactorily to the Board of Supervisors, the board can terminate the grant similar to the way we did last year."
Another concern for Bronson is that she was told if the county rejected the funding, it would have to return all the equipment purchased by Stonegarden funds over the years. To replace all of that would cost taxpayers about $6 million.
There was also the issue of racial profiling, which was cited among several activists as a reason to reject the money.
“Those who spoke in opposition to Stonegarden were accurate in describing rampant racism,” said Bronson. “But it’s not just Stongarden, it’s a larger issue across the county.”
The sheriff said even though he was told by several people that profiling happens, he was not aware it was endemic in his department.
Napier said without the compromise, the federal money likely would have dried up because Washington D.C. was not happy that the county rejected the funding.
“Back in Washington D.C., my problem was they came to me and said sheriff, you’re done,” Napier said. “We’re not going to allow you to submit to the federal grant program anymore.”
DHS told him it causes a lot of people a lot of work when “you apply only to be rejected.”
Napier said he kept his relationship with Washington D.C. on an even keel, hoping for this outcome.
“We took a very controversial issue and made a compromise path forward that maybe not everyone is quite 100 percent pleased with but we can live with,” he said. “That’s good governance.”