It was less than a year ago, on December 28, 2015, when Yavapai County Assessor Pam Pearsall signed the papers pleading guilty to violating ARS § 38-481. That’s the statute regarding the employment of relatives.
Pearsall admitted that she had hired her daughter, Ashley Stewart to work in her office on two separate occasions. She made restitution to the county in the amount of $5,915.98 (to cover the salary paid to Stewart) and agreed to a deferred prosecution agreement.
In addition, as part of that investigation, Pearsall was admonished by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office for using her daughter as a lobbyist without following proper procedures. However, the Attorney General chose not to prosecute Pearsall, citing the assumption that she did not “knowingly” violate the provisions of the law.
Now, new allegations have arisen that Pearsall has another relative working in the County Assessor’s office right now. A records clerk in the Assessor’s Office is alleged to be Pearsall’s niece by marriage.*
Understanding the Legal Terms
As noted above, ARS § 38-481 reads, “...any person related to him by affinity or consanguinity…”
What does that mean?
Consanguinity refers to the “...blood relationship; the relation of people who descend from the same ancestor," according to the Legal Dictionary.
By Affinity is defined as, “The relationship that a person has to the blood relatives of a spouse by virtue of the marriage."
When Pearsall pled guilty, it was to the charge that, “On or between 11/10/2014 and 12/19/2014, Pamela Pearsall, an executive officer, to wit: The Yavapai County Assessor, appointed or voted to appoint a person related to her by consanguinity within the third degree…"
In other words, Pearsall was biologically related to her daughter. On the other hand, a niece by marriage is related by affinity.
The Latest Allegation
When the Yavapai County Attorney’s office was asked about the issue, Penny Cramer, Administrative Assistant to Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk replied via email, “The matter has been referred to the Coconino County Sheriff by the Yavapai County Sheriff and we have no further comment.”
When asked about the “complaint," Coconino County Sheriff Commander Rex Gilliland explained that the term “complaint” is a legal term with a specific meaning and did not apply currently to this situation. “...there is no “complaint” filed against Pearsall in reference to employing her niece. A “complaint” would be a formal legal document charging someone with a crime.
"There is however an allegation that Pearsall may have hired her niece,” Gilliland continued.
According to Gilliland, the allegation is being investigated by the Coconino County Sheriff's department.
When asked about the allegation that her niece is working at the Assessor’s office and the subsequent investigation, Pearsall replied at first, "Ok, so you've received something of an anonymous, ridiculous complaint? Because I'm not aware of any kind of investigation… we haven't been served with anything and I know nothing about it. It is probably something you should talk to HR about. But, I'm not biologically related to anybody in the assessor's office, we can do that.”
Pearsall stated that she hadn’t broken any kind of nepotism laws, and that it was, “…ridiculous, of course, because of the timing…”
But, when pressed further, Pearsall admitted, "There is a niece by marriage working in the Assessor's office, again, I didn't hire her. You know, when you're elected to a position, it's a small town, and people work where they work. But that's not even against the policies of the County. So, that wouldn't go anywhere.”
When asked, “So, you didn’t hire her?” Pearsall responded, “No.”
“But you knew she was related to you?” was the next question. Pearsall replied, "Oh, yeah. Well, she's not related to me, she's related to Bobby, but, yeah, I knew that she was an in-law.”
Later, Pearsall was asked once again, “It’s someone by marriage, it’s not someone you’re biologically related to?”
She replied, "Absolutely, it doesn't even violate any kind of policies. It would be amazing to think that anybody would even forward it, in an election, when it doesn't even violate county policies. Again, HR would do it. If that's true, then it's clearly politics, and I actually think it's not anything that would be appropriate to run, at this point in the middle of a political election, when even the allegation would not be illegal or against policy.”
You can listen to the entire interview here:
*Editor's Note: We are withholding the name of Pearsall’s niece at this time, since it is an allegation and at this point no wrong-doing has been officially charged.