UPDATE (April 21st): Ray Bladine told me this evening that he has agreed to a salary rate of $100K/year. There has been no decision yet on compensation for the IRC's newly hired computer support manager, Buck Forst.
In my April 9th post, I noted concern with the accuracy/proofing/correction process for minutes of prior meetings. It seems, however, that the kinks have yet to be worked out. I hadn't reviewed the draft of the April 14th meeting minutes before that document was approved yesterday. Though a few corrections were made before approval, no correction was made to what was a dramatically inaccurate characterization of my public comments from that meeting. Likely, one or more amendments to the April 14th minutes will need to be approved at the next public meeting (May 3rd).
No, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission has not drawn new districts. But it does have a new home and two new staff members.
The first floor of the Evans House at 1100 W. Washington Street in Phoenix will house the commission as soon as office furniture can be obtained and communications (computer and telephone) connectivity arranged. Built in 1893, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Evans House inscription notes that the building was acquired by the State of Arizona in 1981 through the efforts of state Rep. Polly Rosenbaum. Ms. Rosenbaum served 22 -- 2-year terms in the Arizona House of Representatives. She was first appointed to fill the seat held by her husband, William G. (Rosie) Rosenbaum, who died suddenly in 1949.
Ironic or not? Long an institution in her own right, Polly Rosenbaum served until 1994 when she was defeated in the general election, reportedly as a result of redistricting and an anti-incumbent mood.
To help the Commission get settled in its new digs, and get started on the actual work of drawing new Congressional and legislative district maps, former Phoenix Deputy City Manager Ray Bladine was appointed today to the position of executive director.
The five commissioners took turns asking first Bladine and then former state agency executive Geoffrey Gonsher around 45 minutes worth of questions each. Both men presented as imminently qualified for the task at hand. Both are personable and have excellent interpersonal skills. Both have very strong track records as government executives in Arizona.
Most notable to me about the questioning (other than what I describe below) is how Commissioner McNulty characterized the job of the commissioners as Five Chefs Making a Stew. She described staff as prep cooks. Prep cooks get the ingredients ready for the chefs to make the dish. The ever gregarious Commissioner Stertz added that he prefers jambalaya.
The Arizona Eagletarian, by the way, also prefers jambalaya over stew. And I can often be as quick to offer comments as Mr. Stertz, given the opportunity and it's not out of order. In fact, I have taken the opportunity at most of the IRC meetings I have thus far attended, to offer public comments.
And I'm not shy about offering my reflections on a previous meeting, as I did briefly again today. When I had finished, House of Representatives Republican staffer John Mills -- who has been following the IRC almost as closely as I have -- asked if I was going to make comments at every commission meeting. Only time will tell how that plays out, but if "the spirit moves me" (or if I believe there is a need), I certainly will.
My job as an observer would suggest that I should make Ray Bladine my new best friend. However, I cannot help but reflect that Gonsher likely would have, for a number of reasons, served the commission better. Gonsher's responses to most questions demonstrated a deep sense of mission (the mission of redistricting), clarity of roles and ability to establish effective group norms and relationship boundaries. Gonsher's experience with Arizona state government is clearly deeper than Bladine's.
In remarks given by commissioners after they announced the decision to offer the job to Bladine, both Commissioners McNulty and Herrera gave subtle indication that they would have liked to have hired Gonsher. McNulty alluded to the decision coming down to an intangible factor.
That being said, Gonsher was forthcoming and candid on a question reasonably posed to both candidates by Commissioner Stertz (I am not suggesting Bladine was less than forthcoming). Stertz asked if there was anything in the candidate's background that could be used by political parties to call the executive director's independence and impartiality into question.
Both indicated they had contributed to political candidates. Bladine said he had given small amounts. But Gonsher told the commissioners that he gave $1,000 once to a "local Democratic Party." The Arizona Eagletarian believes it is reasonable to surmise that this disclosure sunk Mr. Gonsher's chances.
Executive director (designate) Bladine told me he will disclose his salary once he signs the employment contract.
The Commission also voted to extend an offer for employment to Buck Forst, currently an employee of the Dept. of Adminstration, to fill the position of Computer Support Program Manager. Salary negotiations with Forst are pending and will be handled by Commissioner Herrera along with Bladine. Forst has already been assisting the commission with computer issues. He also facilitated the transfer of the website (azredistricting.org) from the Legislative Council.
The Commission also directed Bladine to develop a staffing plan to submit to the commissioners. At Freeman's suggestion, a standing agenda item for an executive director's report will be added for each meeting.
Now on to the question of the big money items, the RFPs. The legal consultant RFP was issued last week. The deadline to submit responses is Thursday, April 28 at 3pm. All responses will be converted to digital files and copied to a CD-ROM. The CD will be sent overnight, weekend delivery (to be sent on Friday, received on Saturday) to each of the five commissioners and the executive director.
Before those documents are sent out, each of the six are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement to keep from compromising the process.
The RFP for a mapping consultant is not ready for release. The commission will meet in executive session only on Wednesday, April 27th to finalize the language for that RFP. It should be released shortly thereafter.
None of the commissioners sounded frustrated with timing issues today.
Before the meeting, I asked Ms. McNulty about it, referring to Evan Wyloge's story Monday. She said she thought Freeman and Stertz were just making casual comments and it did not necessarily mean the commission will circumvent the procurement code. Come to think of it (and on reflection), that sounds like commissioners may have spoken with each other about some of those reports.
I wonder if it would help if they imagine a virtual cattle prod or electrified fence that gives them a little zap whenever they think about wanting to discuss any commission business in violation of the Open Meeting Law.
Notably, it's fine for a commissioner to talk one on one with another commissioner about official business, but it's really easy to effectively have a quorum if the same conversation is made with three or more commissioners. And if done without adequate public notice or allowing the public to observe, it becomes problematic.
The next public commission meeting, originally intended for Monday, May 2nd has been rescheduled to Tuesday, May 3rd at 9:30am. The probable location is the Miranda Room at the State Library (second floor of the capitol, same place the March 1 meeting was held).