David Smith, Maricopa County Manager, to Retire in April; Served During Legal Fights With Sheriff Joe Arpaio

smith david county shot.jpg
David Smith, Maricopa County's longtime county manager, will retire effective April 27 after 17 years on the job.

Maricopa County Manager David Smith announced today that he'll retire on April 27 after 17 years on the job.


Smith, 65, was at the helm during countless storms, guiding the county through severe fiscal crises and years of emotional legal battles with Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas.


The county, which hired Smith in 1994, issued a news release this afternoon about his retirement that praises him for single-handledly transforming the county from one of the state's biggest deadbeats into a smooth-running money machine. (See release below).


New budget problems in the latter half of the 2000s caused great friction between the county and Sheriff Arpaio, who employed his lackey, former Chief Deputy Dave Hendershott, to do his dirty work.


Back in March of 2009, New Times reported how a discussion between Smith and Hendershott went south, with Smith telling Hendershott he was a Jekyll-and-Hyde-type character and "just plain childish." Smith had been complaining how Arpaio's office seeemed to be using criminal investigations as a weapon in budget negotiations.


Hendershott, naturally, interpreted Smith's comments as possibly worthy of a criminal investigation and soon filed complaints against him with the State Bars of Arizona and New York. The bombastic complaints, rightfully, went nowhere.

Perhaps as revenge for Smith's decisions on the budget and legal fights, Arpaio named Smith as a co-conspirator in the now-infamous racketeering complaint filed against the county in December of 2009. Arpaio was later forced to drop the crappily written RICO suit.

Arpaio and Thomas had many enemies during their years of county infighting, and David Smith was among their most skilled opponents. In the long run, of course, Smith stood among the winners. Thomas faces disbarment over issues related to the county squabbles, the county beat back what appears in retrospect as nothing less than an attempted coup, and the county court tower -- a major source of contention between the county, Arpaio and Thomas -- opened this month without a peep from Arpaio about the corruption he once claimed was tied to it.

Smith practically has Arpaio eating from his hand now.

But the sheriff, who is running for a sixth term, will apparently outlast even Smith.

Smith may need to leave behind his chair and bullwhip so the next county manager can deal with Arpaio.

Full text of county news release follows:


County Manager David Smith announces retirement after 17 years
After 17 years, the longest tenured County Manager in Maricopa County history, David Smith is retiring from county government, effective April 27.

Smith, 65, was recruited from Buffalo, N. Y. in 1994 where he was deputy county executive for Erie County, N.Y. At the time, Maricopa County was in a deep financial crisis with a $65 million budget deficit and Smith was selected as a "turnaround manager." He became one of the nation's most respected public administrators, winning Governing Magazine's 2001 "Public Official of the Year." He is credited with putting the county on solid financial footing by insisting on structurally balanced budgets, close, monthly monitoring of revenues and a pay-as-you-go capital improvement program designed to avoid general obligation debt.

Smith worked with elected and appointed county leaders achieving fiscal balance within 18 months. All county bonded indebtedness was paid off in 2004. Three credit rating upgrades put the county today at a Triple A rating. The county has not had an operating deficit since 1994.

"I have had the great fortune of being part of four multi-term county administrations in my career," Smith said. "Three were in counties in New York and one here in Maricopa County. For the past 40 years, I have always worked for elected officials. I like county government the best because what our National Association of Counties says is true: 'Counties are big enough to get the job done and small enough to care.' I have seen that happen over and over again in my career."

In his letter today to the board members, Smith wrote: "We have traveled a long road together, never failing to rise to any challenge or solve any difficult problem. You will now be forging a new team to pursue the next steps of excellence for Maricopa County."

Besides the fiscal turnaround, Smith is credited with helping to establish the Human Services Campus and guiding the construction of the new $335 million South Court Tower, both in downtown Phoenix.

"The fiscal policies of the Board of Supervisors shows there is a discipline to everything we do. We are always trying to save money and do things better," Smith said. "I believe we have the best management team at the county level in the country. We also work to go beyond best practices to next practices and always put ourselves to the measurement test."

Maricopa County has won numerous awards and recognitions, including 21 Arizona Quality Awards over the past eight years, more than any other public, private ore non-profit organization in the state.

Smith said he is undecided about future plans after April 27, his final day at the county, but it will include community service in Arizona.

Max Wilson, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said he appreciated Smith's help in Wilson's own transition from private business to public service on the county board. "David Smith is a great leader, with a long career in public service beginning with his service with the Marines in Vietnam," Wilson said.

Supervisor Don Stapley, a former NACO president, said: "David Smith is recognized as one of the top public administrators in the nation. He helped to make Maricopa County the best run county in the country. He will be missed, but his impact on fostering the highest professionalism in government will be a legacy he can be proud of always."

"Working for five independently elected officials can't be easy," commented Supervisor Andy Kunasek. " The Board set some ambitious, near-impossible goals and David was able to implement them."

Mary Rose Wilcox, the lone Democrat on the board and a former Phoenix City Council member, said Smith's vision on a host of issues served the county well. "Having been a member of the board of supervisors that originally hired David Smith, I have witnessed his tremendous leadership qualities for almost two decades. It is with sadness that we accept his resignation but realize that he has so much to offer as a wonderful resource for other counties or agencies that would benefit from his vast experience."

Supervisor Fulton Brock called Smith a "visionary". "David was key on the Homeless Campus but also working to help youth get on the right track," Brock said. "He saw that if we invested in our youth, we could lower recidivism, reduce the crime rate, enhance public safety and save lives. We at the county really appreciate his work."

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11 comments
FormerRepublican
FormerRepublican

David Smith, a true honorable leader and public servant. One who we can respect unlike those he's had to endure for far too many years. 2012 is the year the bad ones must go down. Mr. Smith, run for Governor.

Gerry_C
Gerry_C

 A big thank you to David Smith!  Best wishes in all your future adventures.  We are better off because of you.

Tina
Tina

I hadn't known of David Smith until all the outrageous Arpaio and company public temper tantrums and retaliation efforts against county officials began making the news a few years ago.  David Smith's intelligence, financial and legal expertise, professional demeanor and cool head, shined through it all.  Thank you, Mr. Smith, for your many years of challenging service to Maricopa County. 
 
The only consolation to the disappointing news that Smith is retiring from his position as county manager is his indication that his "future plans will include community service in Arizona."

Tommy Collins
Tommy Collins

I admire Mr. Smith for his veracity and willingness to serve during all the tumultuous times when it might have been appropriate to leave and let someone else handle the mush.

I wish Mr. Smith nothing but the best. 

Anon
Anon

yps, You sound like a thomas/arpaio/aubuchon/alexander supporter.

OnlyinArizona
OnlyinArizona

 Not such a nice thing to say.  David Smith is a smart, incredibly enthusiastic guy whose low key approach to the issues the County has faced served to steady the ship during some pretty rough times.  David Smith should be applauded.....not mocked.  He was faced with a challenge most people could not fathom...and he rose to the occasion.

Tommy Collins
Tommy Collins

 YPS is a product of the MCSO media machine. He hopes for a new sheriff but he seems to still be a part of the hate philosophy of anyone who opposes anything to do with MCSO. Mr. Smith didn't cower to the threats of MCSO, thus this makes him a bad guy. At least as seen through the myopia of some eyes.

Anon
Anon

Babeu is not a Maricopa County sheriff even though joined at the hip with arpaio/Romney.

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