Lisa Allen, credited with making Sheriff Joe Arpaio famous, retires

Jan 25, 2016, 5:00 AM | Updated: 12:55 pm
FILE -Sheriff Joe Arpaio's communications director, Lisa Allen, is retiring. (AP Photo/Ross D. Fran...

FILE -Sheriff Joe Arpaio's communications director, Lisa Allen, is retiring. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
LISTEN: Lisa Allen, MCSO communications director

PHOENIX — Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is losing his right hand woman.

After more than 20 years by the sheriff’s side, communications director Lisa Allen is retiring. She and her husband have decided to move to Boise, Idaho.

Many believe it was Allen who made Arpaio a household name around the world.

It was 1993 when Arpaio burst onto the scene after being elected Maricopa County Sheriff.

“I’m probably the greatest politician who ever lived,” said Arpaio in the documentary film about him “The Joe Show.”

Known for making prisoners wear pink underwear and eat green bologna while sleeping in tents in his tent city, he brought with him some controversial ideas. Once, he met an inmate who complained about living in his tents. The inmate told the sheriff that he used to be a soldier and lived in tents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It was still a hell of a lot better than it is here,” the inmate complained.

Arpaio replied by saying, “That’s a great, great compliment to me.”

Soon, everyone knew the name Arpaio, and the person Arpaio chose to get him that recognition was Allen, a former Phoenix TV Reporter.

“He wanted a media person who understood how the media thinks, and how they work and what they need,” Allen said.

Randy Murray is the cirector of “The Joe Show.” The documentary is about Arpaio’s relationship with the media, and Allen has always been in the middle of it all.

“She understood that media in America was changing, that politics in America was changing, and that law enforcement in America was changing, all on her watch,” Murray said. “She leveraged those changes to make the sheriff more famous, and, at one point, the most popular politician in America.”

Murray says that other political candidates are trying to copy Arpaio’s style — the style that Allen encouraged. Donald Trump is one of them.

“Just look at (Trump’s) speeches,” Murray said. “Look at the way (Trump) handles himself. (Trump) is doing what the sheriff did first. The sheriff plowed that ground, and Lisa told him where to plow.”

Allen gained the praise of Valley public relations expert Jason Rose.

“If there was an Arizona PR hall of fame, Lisa Allen would soon be inducted in it,” said Rose.

“She has the combination of experience, creativity, and importantly in the Arpaio world, the respect of the big man (Arpaio). When you combine that with the sheriff’s savant-like status in terms of communication, (the two of them were) a very potent combination.”

One person who is not a fan of Allen is Dan Saban, who is running for sheriff against Arpaio. He sees Allen’s position as a waste of taxpayer dollars.

“You don’t see police chiefs, or other sheriffs, being marketed either nationally or internationally at taxpayer expense,” he said.

But Allen says it does benefit taxpayers to have their elected officials gain more popularity.

“A well known and popular persona has a far better chance of getting things done in government than one who is better known,” Allen said. “(Arpaio’s) popularity has been a factor in getting new jails built and a new headquarters constructed. His popularity has driven home important messages on deterrence, animal cruelty, paying child support, etc.”

Saban believes that Allen may still be involved in some with Arpaio’s public relations efforts even if she is retired in Idaho. But Allen said that her future involvement is uncertain.

“As for working beyond retirement, I don’t know,” she said. “I do plan to open a business related to the pet industry. Beyond that, my plans are uncertain.”

She did answer our question of whether any of Arpaio’s recent court battles led to her decision to retire.

“I’ve anticipated this question coming from some media person, and you are the first to ask it,” Allen said. “What’s going on in the courts, what’s going any place else for this office or for Sheriff Arpaio, had absolutely no impact on my decision whatsoever.”

Allen said she had accumulated enough points in the Maricopa County retirement plan, and that she has been considering retirement for a long time.

Arpaio denied our request for an interview, saying that he’s leaving it up to Allen to talk about her decision to retire.

Allen believes that Arpaio will miss her.

“I think that my retirement comes as a little bit of a disappointment to him,” Allen said. “I’ve been with him practically from day one, so I know that there’s got to be some sense of sadness or loss for him. There certainly is for me. Despite what certain folks in the news media think of Joe Arpaio, I know him, really and truly in the bottom of my heart to be a good man, a good boss, and a good sheriff.”

As for Arpaio’s future, Allen said she has “absolutely all of the faith in the world that he’s just going to go on, business as usual, and be just fine. He’s strong like a bull, so I’m not too worried about that.”

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Lisa Allen, credited with making Sheriff Joe Arpaio famous, retires