The right-hand man to District 2 Republican supervisor Cheryl Chase was on a county “do-not-hire” list just days before Chase made the move to hire him.
Shortly after being elected by an overwhelming margin in November, Chase made a request to her former boss – Pinal County sheriff Paul Babeu – to re-consider the hiring status for 24-year-old Manuel Vega, who had resigned abruptly from PCSO in 2010 after having been caught lying about his work experience in an interview for a higher position in the agency, records show.
Babeu asked then-Human Resources director Wendy Peterson to remove the restriction on Vega’s hiring on Dec. 7, shortly after meeting one-on-one with Vega. However, Vega remained listed as ineligible for re-hire with the PCSO, according to his personnel file.
Babeu wrote in a letter to PCSO HR director Brandi Clark on Dec. 3, that he had “Listened to (Vega’s) appeal, and believe it has merit.”
Babeu, in a statement to the Maricopa Monitor on Friday, said he had no issues with Vega’s hiring by Chase.
“Manuel Vega was a good employee at the Sheriff’s Office,” Babeu wrote. “It was clear to me that there were some personal conflicts that resulted in Manuel deciding to leave. It had nothing to do with his performance.”
Records from Vega’s personnel file, however, seem to indicate otherwise.
In a Nov. 17, 2010 memo to Clark, PCSO communications manager Jennifer Foster writes that Vega had knowingly exaggerated the amount of substitute teaching he had done for the Tempe Union School District during his interview for the position of Master Street Address Guide coordinator within the PCSO on Nov. 16, 2010.
“We discussed briefly about how in this administration the thing we tolerate least is untruthfulness,” Foster wrote. “Mr. Vega asked if he resigned would I list him as eligible for rehire and I stated that I would not recommend him to be rehired at PCSO nor in any division within Pinal County.”
Foster further writes that Vega resigned on the spot, knowing “he would not survive the inquiry.”
Chase hired Vega in January 2013. Less than three months later, she put his name forward for a promotion to a new position – community relations administrator for the entire board of supervisors. The position had a suggested salary of nearly $57,000.
While fellow Republican Todd House supported Chase’s move to add the new position, the other three board members, including Republican chairman Steve Miller, said they had multiple concerns with the appointment.
Miller said during the March 13 meeting and in a follow-up interview with the Monitor on Thursday that adding a new position while the County was attempting to hold the line on the budget was unwise.
“I didn’t see a need for it at the time,” Miller said Thursday. “I’m at a comfort level now without filling that position … because of the staff we already have.”
Additionally, Miller said Vega’s name was simply put forth by Chase for the position, without allowing the position – were it to be approved – to be posted and for applications to be vetted by the board.
Should the community relations manager position ever be needed, Miller said, it would need to be filled by someone with more extensive lobbying experience who could be a good liaison for the board to other government and private entities.
“It would be a very task-oriented position,” Miller said.
Chase disagreed, saying she still believes Vega would be a good fit for that position, having shown himself to be a hard worker in his first eight months on the job.
“I have known Manuel Vega for several years as a friend,” Chase said in a statement issued Friday. “He is extremely qualified and has done a wonderful job in helping me represent the county. I felt he was an excellent choice for the Community Relations Administrator positions and I would continue to recommend him.”
In March 2011, Vegas was hired by the Arizona Department of Corrections as a correctional officer.
In a Facebook posting last month, Vega claimed he “got away with s––t” because he knew potentially damaging information that stopped his sergeant from pursuing disciplinary action against him.
Vega resigned from his position with DOC upon his hiring at the County in January.
Vega has not responded to requests for comment from the Monitor.