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Archaeologist claims Arizona parks agency disregards Native sites

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PHOENIX — The agency that oversees Arizona’s state parks has a history of advancing building projects by blatantly ignoring Native American sites and artifacts, a former state archaeologist said.

Will Russell, a former compliance officer and tribal liaison for Arizona State Parks and Trails, filed a complaint earlier this month with the Arizona Department of Administration. According to Russell, he repeatedly warned of regulations that prohibit the destruction of artifacts and archaeological sites only to be scolded by managers. He eventually resigned in protest over what he describes as a deliberate disregard for regulations.

One example he cited was the building of updated restroom facilities and beachfront cabins in Lake Havasu State Park. Russell said he told park managers about native antiquities at the construction site.

“They said they’d look into it, and I took them at their word,” Russell told the Today’s News-Herald . “When I was back out there a few months later, they had a bulldozer there.”

Russell said agency director Sue Black rarely consulted with tribes in the Lake Havasu area and later eliminated his position as tribal liaison.

“I was eventually prohibited from contacting the tribes, field staff and even property owners on private, adjacent land,” he said.

Russell told The Arizona Republic that he and Black argued about preservation to the point where she would berate him.

State Department of Administration spokeswoman Megan Rose says they are reviewing his accusations and declined to comment.

Russell’s allegations are the latest tangle for Black, who faces one of the highest turnover rates for a director of a state agency. Parks and Trails employs nearly 180 people. Nearly 120 quit or were fired since Black was appointed in February 2015, according to public records obtained by The Arizona Republic.

Black has also been accused of inappropriate and disrespectful behavior toward staff. The allegations culminated in three inquiries. The only discipline for Black so far has been from one of Gov. Doug Ducey’s administrators, who spoke with her about how to treat employees.

Daniel Scarpinato, Ducey’s campaign spokesman, declined to comment on Black.

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