State Treasurer David Petersen of Mesa spent months twisting in the wind, and not doing the job to which he was elected, before informally agreeing last week to quit in the near future and end a state criminal investigation.
Petersen can avoid potential felony charges on more serious allegations by pleading guilty this Wednesday to a single misdemeanor charge of failing to report outside income. Still, the pending resignation and criminal sentencing is quite a fall for the former Republican state senator who was widely known for promoting lessons in character for children and adults.
Petersen’s method of teaching character was a key source of the troubles he brought to the treasurer’s office. Petersen was paid by Character First! to persuade local groups to use its training materials and programs. Petersen was involved with Character First! before he was elected in 2002. But insiders at the treasurer’s office claim Petersen inappropriately used his position to advance that private relationship.
Under the proposed plea bargain, Petersen can delay his resignation until the day of his sentencing hearing, which still has to be scheduled. But there’s no reason for him to wait and to continue collecting a salary funded by taxpayers.
Petersen’s formal departure from the treasurer’s office largely would be a formality anyway. By most accounts, Petersen barely has spent any time at his Phoenix office since state investigators searched it in February. Day-to-day management of billions of dollars in state funds has been left to Petersen’s top deputies, some of whom provided the most damaging interviews against Petersen, according to reports by the Tribune and Capitol Media Services.
Petersen announced in the spring he wouldn’t seek re-election, leading to the Nov. 7 showdown between Republican Dean Martin and Democrat Rano Singh.
Petersen needs to step aside immediately and let a caretaker have the reins until the next elected treasurer can take the oath of office.