By Ethan McSweeney
The two Republican candidates for District 4 of the Pinal County Board of Supervisors traded barbs in a heated debate Saturday morning at UltraStar Multi-tainment Center.
Incumbent Supervisor Anthony Smith and Rich Vitiello are both seeking the Republican nomination in August for the district, which covers western parts of Pinal County, including Maricopa, Arizona City and Saddlebrooke.
In the middle of the debate, Vitiello criticized Smith for voting to increase pay for his administrative staff by 28 percent. He said that Pinal County law enforcement officers should be the ones to have their pay boosted.
“I have no problem with giving some kind of a raise, but eight years going on now the deputies have not been given a raise,” Vitiello said. “Our police officers are well underpaid.”
Smith responded by saying the creation of the new district meant finding the appropriate pay for his assistant took some time to adjust to find the right amount.
“In fact, she is working for 25 percent less than what the midpoint is, and that was the right thing to do,” Smith said.
Smith then criticized Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu for supporting candidates in races around the county and encouraging Vitiello to run against him for the supervisor seat.
“I think it’s ridiculous that you would do that, because what that does is it creates a misbalance and ruins the checks and balances that we have between the Board of Supervisors and the people that we have budget authority over,” Smith said.
Vitiello denied that Babeu encouraged him to run. He said that while he supports Babeu, he wasn’t handpicked to run against Smith.
“Rich Vitiello is his own man,” Vitiello said.
“No one is going to tell me what to do,” he added.
At times, members of the audience shouted at Smith after he spoke.
Toward the end of the debate, Smith said he would be open to ending plans for the proposed Palo Verde Regional Park, west of Maricopa. Some residents in the area where the park would be located have mounted a fierce opposition to the proposal.
“Unless there is a substantial agreement to move forward, I will support the wishes of those who say no action and we will not go forward with the master plan,” Smith said.
On flood mitigation efforts in the area, Vitiello argued the efforts needed more response from the Pinal County government.
“We need to worry about it now, and our Pinal County office has not taken the steps to do that,” he said. “I will work with the different flood districts to make sure that we solve this to bring economic development.”
Smith said the Lower Santa Cruz River Alliance is already working with the flood districts to come up with a solution to flood issues.
“His one great plan for moving forward is already being done,” Smith said.
During the debate, Vitiello also expressed his support for a half-cent sales tax increase to pay to fix roads in Pinal County.
Smith, when asked about the perception of cartel activity in Pinal County, suggested that RICO funds could be used by the Sheriff’s Office toward high-crime areas to address the problem.