TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The Pima County Supervisors appointed retired county employee Betty Villegas to replace District 5 Supervisor and Chairman to the Board Richard Elias, who died March 28.
“I humbled and surprised to be replacing my good friend on the board,” Villegas said. “I never thought something like this would happen.”
She and Elias were friends for 25 years, before she began working for the Pima County Housing Center, the same department Elias worked in before he was appointed to the board in 2002.
The Elias family expressed a desire for her to fill the seat temporarily until the election in November, when voters will decide who will represent District 5.
The motion to appoint Villegas was made by District 3 Supervisor Sharon Bronson, seconded by District 2 Supervisor Ramone Valadez and passed by a 3-1 vote.
District 4 Supervisor Steve Christy cast the no vote on procedural grounds.
Valadez was appointed to serve as the interim board chair.
Prior to the vote, the members paid tribute to their former colleague.
District 1 Supervisor Ally Miller and Elias verbally sparred over the years because of policy differences.
Today, holding back tears, Miller talked about his sense of humor and said “he will be missed.”
“He truly believed in what he believed in as I did mine," Miller said. “And I hope we respected each other for that.”
Valadez, in honor of Elias, whom he called “my brother” also set aside the entire month of April as a time to pay tribute.
“The Pima County Board of Supervisors wishes to honor the legacy of our friend brother and colleague by proclaiming the month of April 2020 to be an honor memorial and tribute to Chairman Richard Elias," he said.
He said a memorial will be built in his honor at a later date.
Elias was leading the county efforts to battle the coronavirus and nearly all of them talked individually with Elias about the plans on Friday night before he died unexpectedly Saturday morning.
Who will lead the effort now is unclear but one thing is certain: Elias left an impact.
“I think in honor of his memory we should do what he asked,” Bronson said. “And that was shelter in place and if you’re going out, to wear a face mask."