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Parks Official's Signature on Documents Raises Questions

Tamarisk trees grow in thick stands along the Little Colorado River near Cameron, Arizona.
John Grahame
Tamarisk trees grow in thick stands along the Little Colorado River near Cameron, Arizona.

The deputy director of Arizona State Parks & Trails, who is under investigation over accusations the agency bulldozed over archaeological sites, once signed a federal grant application over the objections of a staff archaeologist, according to documents obtained Monday by The Arizona Republic.


The report adds another layer of questions about an agency whose director, Sue Black, is facing a slew of allegations including disregarding laws protecting historical and Native American sites.


Records show Deputy Director Jim Keegan filled out an application in March 2016 for funding administered through the Arizona Department of Transportation. The "Cultural Clearance Review" form notes that it must be signed by the archaeologist for agencies that have a staff archaeologist.

Keegan's signature is on a space designated for then-staff archaeologist Paula Pflepsen. He was not authorized to sign instead and has no training in the archaeology field, Pflepsen said. She believes it was a common practice to get around antiquities laws that mandated input from an archaeologist.

"Keegan and Black often went over qualified personnel and approved projects as well as putting direct pressure on (State Historic Preservation Office) to push through projects because Black wanted them done in a specific time frame," Pflepsen told the newspaper.

The request was for money to build new hiking trails and to renovate existing ones at Kartchner Caverns State Park. The application referenced prehistoric and historical archaeological sites in or around the area.

That application ultimately led the agency to getting $80,000 in July 2016.

Parks spokeswoman Michelle Thompson declined to comment, citing the active investigation by the state attorney general's office.

Neither Keegan nor Black immediately responded to messages seeking comment.

More than one staff archaeologist has accused both in the past month of shirking environmental and archaeological compliance in a rush to make money. Republican Gov. Doug Ducey placed Keegan and Black on paid leave Nov. 1 amid mounting pressure from Native American lawmakers, who called for a criminal investigation. The attorney general's office has launched a probe into whether the agency disregarded antiquities law to rush development of trails and cabins.

Black has been investigated by the state twice for allegedly mistreating state employees.

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