Arizona's top emergency manager quits amid COVID-19 outbreak

The director of Arizona's Division of Emergency Management abruptly resigned her post over what she said was a disagreement with the way Gov. Doug Ducey (R) structured the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak, which has sickened nearly 1,000 people in the state.

In her resignation letter on Friday, Wendy Smith-Reeve said Ducey's decision to hand control to the Department of Health Services rather than to the emergency management agency made her role unnecessary.

"It has become clear that my role is being addressed by the Governor's staff and [the Arizona Department of Health Services] which means my presence and function is duplicative," Smith-Reeve wrote to Ducey and Gen. Michael McGuire, director of the state Department of Emergency and Military Affairs, Smith-Reeve's direct supervisor.

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"The directives from the Governor's office have been to work completely outside of the State Emergency Response and Recovery Plan that the Governor acknowledged and directed the state enterprise to follow" in 2017, she wrote. "The lack of communication and transparency is degrading the hybrid process that non emergency management trained individuals have put into place."

A later version of her letter omitted criticisms of Ducey's office.

"We’re grateful to have the steady leadership of Maj. General McGuire leading our emergency operations during this time. He’s one of the best in the nation and we won’t miss a beat with him and his team at the helm. We're also grateful to Wendy Smith-Reeve for her more than 23 years of service to the State of Arizona," said Patrick Ptak, Ducey's spokesman.

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In an internal email, Daniel Ruiz, Arizona's chief operating officer, recommended to Ducey's chief of staff that they accept Smith-Reeve's resignation. He also said Ducey's decision to direct the Department of Health Services to lead the response while working with the Division of Emergency Management had been "a successful effort."

"These efforts and efforts across state government are valuable, not duplicative -- they should be applauded, not discouraged," Ruiz wrote.

On Sunday, Ducey's chief of staff, Daniel Scarpinato, thanked Smith-Reeve for her service.

"Having worked with Wendy through multiple fire seasons, I can say she's made a difference and truly cares about the state," Scarpinato wrote on Twitter.

Anthony Cox, who had been Smith-Reeve's deputy, will serve as acting director of the agency.

Arizona's Department of Health Services reported 919 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Sunday, just over half of which were in Maricopa County, the state's largest. Seventeen people have died.

Cara Christ, the director of the health department, said last week she anticipated the state would need between 7,000 and 13,000 additional hospital beds by May, on top of the 16,900 it already has, to handle the spread of the virus.

Ducey on Monday said public and charter schools in Arizona would remain closed through the rest of the year, following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He has not ordered restaurant dining rooms, golf courses or other public businesses closed statewide, a step many other states have taken.

Last week, Ducey signed legislation to help schools set up virtual learning programs and to continue paying teachers and staff through the pandemic's spread.

— This report was updated at 12:15 p.m.