ADOA Whistleblower Seeks $1.5 Million For Wrongful-Termination
Former state official fired by Brewer seeks $1.5 million
Craig Harris and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, The Republic | azcentral.com
- Ex-Department of Administration director seeks nearly $1.5 million for wrongful termination.
- Brian McNeil’s claim alleges former Gov. Jan Brewer’s administration engaged in unethical behavior.
- Former Gov. Jan Brewer declined to respond to the allegations.
Brian McNeil, former director of the Arizona Department of Administration, is seeking nearly $1.5 million from the state in a wrongful-termination claim that alleges former Gov. Jan Brewer’s administration engaged in unethical conduct.
Among the allegations in the 94-page claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — is that high-ranking officials within Brewer’s administration engaged in a “legislative ploy” to overturn a $3 billion mental-health contract.
The claim also accuses Brewer of quietly giving staff raises that were outside state policy, despite publicly cracking down on large raises given to certain employees of the Arizona Public Safety Personnel Retirement System pension.
The claim further contends Brewer staffers deliberately dragged their feet on the release of public records to the media, as opposed to an attempt “to be in compliance with the letter and spirit of Arizona law.”
Brewer, who left office in January, declined to comment on McNeil’s claims.
McNeil, whom Brewer fired in late October, also says in his claim that he was terminated without explanation and was denied the opportunity to respond to “unfounded” allegations of racist behavior and sexual misconduct toward a female employee.
Shortly after Brewer fired McNeil, her spokesman, Andrew Wilder, released a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint by that employee that alleged McNeil had discriminated against her.
McNeil’s claim contends the state’s decision to “disclose the unsubstantiated and false allegations” to the media was motivated to discredit him because he had fought the Brewer administration over the misuse of public funds and government waste.
McNeil declined comment when reached by phone Friday.
The claim asserts McNeil, who also served in the military, had his reputation damaged by the firing, tarnishing a long and distinguished career in state government.
The claim seeks $1.46 million, including $500,000 for damage to reputation and $250,000 for emotional distress.
In addition to seeking monetary damages, the claim provides a rare public peek into the inner workings of the Governor’s Office and allegations of bare-knuckle politics in which Brewer rewarded friends while overlooking public policy or state law.
One of the biggest controversies centered on a $3 billion state mental-health contract awarded to Mercy Maricopa rather than former provider Magellan Health Services.
The claim contends that Brewer had been upset that Mercy Maricopa had won the bid. In March 2014, according to the claim, a lobbyist told McNeil that Brewer’s chief of staff, Scott Smith, authorized a legislative ploy to get the contract overturned and awarded to Magellan Health Services.
In late March 2014, Magellan made a last-minute attempt to have the Legislature derail the contract, but it didn’t work.
The claim also alleges Joe Sciarrotta Jr., Brewer’s legal counsel toward the end of her tenure, tried to influence the decision-making process in favor of a Magellan contract. Brewer at the end of her term appointed Sciarrotta as a judge to Maricopa County Superior Court. Sciarrotta could not be reached for comment.
The claim also contends that Brewer engaged in a “bait and switch” in regard to her personnel-reform initiatives, which imposed strict procedures to follow in granting raises for state employees.
In summer 2014, McNeil ordered a rollback of inappropriate raises that had been given to some staff members at the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System without ADOA approval. The raises were first uncovered by The Arizona Republic, forcing the retirement of PSPRS Administrator Jim Hacking.
McNeil claims he discovered through his office’s investigation of PSPRS that other state agencies, including the Governor’s Office, also had given out improper raises without ADOA approval. His claim says Kathy Peckardt, Brewer’s deputy chief of staff and a key player in advancing the governor’s personnel-reform agenda, pushed him to “suppress” those records.
Contacted by The Republic, Peckardt declined to answer questions except to say, “I can’t comment on pending litigation.” Brewer elevated Peckardt to head of ADOA after she fired McNeil. Peckardt retired at the end of March.
The claim describes “significant friction” between McNeil and the Governor’s Office over her state parks director’s nepotism. The Republic reported at the time that then-Parks Director Bryan Martyn had hired his three sons and increased the pay for their positions.
McNeil’s claim says Brewer had no intention of disciplining Martyn over the matter, but she eventually gave him a three-week suspension after McNeil expressed outrage and pushed for harsh discipline. Newly elected Gov. Doug Ducey did not retain Martyn as parks director.
Kraig Marton, McNeil’s attorney, wrote in response to questions from The Republic that McNeil had “an extremely limited relation” with Brewer during his tenure as ADOA director. Marton wrote that McNeil’s relationship with Smith “started off positively, but in time their relationship became strained.”
Asked why McNeil did not speak publicly before he was terminated about the improper behavior he now alleges, Marton wrote, “It is true that things happened that troubled Mr. McNeil while he was in state government, but he did not react or act at the time because he hoped they would get better. Also, on a number of occasions, bad results were avoided based on the hard work and diligence of McNeil and some other state employees. McNeil’s intention in discussing the matters now is to share some perspective on the additional impact on him resulting from the poor behavior and practices of the governor’s most senior staffers.”