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Kimble: Treasurer is too stressed to work

“David’s long-term goal is to be a leader of good character and integrity in the community while serving the citizens of Arizona as State Treasurer.”

- From the Web page of David A. Petersen state treasurer

Well, it hasn’t quite worked out that way. Petersen’s “good character and integrity” are under investigation. And he hasn’t done much lately to serve the citizens of Arizona.

Petersen is technically still state treasurer. He carries the title, his name is on the door and on the Web pages and he’s still pulling down his $70,000 a year salary, courtesy of you and me.

But it’s a mystery what he’s doing and where he’s doing it.

For more than three months, Petersen hasn’t shown up at the office much, letting his subordinates run the place.

This is an astounding vanishing act for the man who is third in the line of gubernatorial succession and whose office manages $9 billion in public cash and investments.

Petersen stopped coming to work regularly in late February – about the same time he came under a state Attorney General’s Office investigation.

I called Petersen at his Mesa home several times over the past couple of weeks. I left him messages, but he never deigned to return the calls. His attorney, Craig Henley of Mesa, was similarly uncommunicative.

However, in early April, Petersen was more talkative. He told the Arizona Capitol Times, a newspaper that covers state government, that he stopped coming to work because the stress of being investigated aggravated his diabetes and caused other health problems.

Fortunately, Petersen’s health problems have not interfered with his ability to cash his paychecks. By my calculations, he’s collected about $19,000 since going to the office became too stressful.

Tony Malaj, chief of staff for the Treasurer’s Office, said this week Petersen does come into the office sometimes. “Some days he’s in, some days he’s telecommuting from home,” Malaj said.

Petersen, a Republican, is not running for re-election this fall and already is working on the transition – still seven months away – by sending e-mails from home, Malaj said.

Why is Petersen in trouble? His biography on the treasurer’s Web site gives some background. In his previous job as a state legislator, “David introduced and was instrumental in the passage of character education legislation,” the Web site reports.

Petersen’s interest in character education continued when he was elected treasurer in 2002.

The investigation into his activities stems from Petersen’s involvement in a character-education program known as Character First. Petersen allegedly improperly billed the state for Character First business and also allegedly used state employees and equipment improperly.

In February, just before Petersen’s stress-induced absence, investigators from the state Attorney General’s Office served a search warrant on the Treasurer’s Office.

They left with three computers, boxes of files and documents, Character First material, DVDs and computer tapes and disks. Documents show they also took a “Bank of America credit card with Petersen’s name (but a woman’s photo)” from a desk drawer.

Andrea M. Esquer, press secretary for Attorney General Terry Goddard, said the investigation into Petersen is ongoing and not likely to conclude soon.

In the meantime, the Arizona Democratic Party, sensing an opportunity to score political points, is having fun on its Web site with a game titled “Where in the World is Arizona Treasurer David Petersen?”

Visitors to the site are asked to send in photos of Petersen superimposed on places he may be visiting instead of working. Photos on the site show him in Disneyland, playing golf, buying gasoline, at an Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game and surfing.

The person who submits the best photo of Petersen will be given two tickets to an upcoming Democratic Party event.

Although the pictures are funny, Matt Weisman, communications director for Arizona Democrats, says there is a serious side to this mess.

“It’s not funny that there’s serious work to do,” Weisman said. “We need a state treasurer, and we’re paying a state treasurer to work.”

I’m sorry David Petersen is not feeling well. But the bottom line is this: If a person is being paid to do a job – especially a public employee doing a public job – he should show up and do it.

If he can’t do that, Petersen should resign.

In his biography, Petersen writes that he “enjoys singing and was a member of the ‘Singing Senators’ while serving in the Arizona State Senate”.

His singing days are over.

Mark Kimble appears at 6:30 p.m. and midnight Fridays on the Roundtable segment of “Arizona Illustrated” on KUAT-TV, Channel 6. He may be reached at mkimble@tucsoncitizen.com or 573-4662.



● Arizona Treasurer’s Office: www.aztreasury.gov/default.htm

● David Petersen’s biography: www.aztreasury.gov/petersenBio.shtml

● Arizona Democratic Party: www.azdem.org

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