On July 15, 2011 (today), the Arizona Capitol Times published a story that belies a bias in news reporting. That once venerable publication had prided itself on fairness and absence of political partisanship.
Reporters Christian Palmer and Evan Wyloge say that prior to awarding a LUCRATIVE contract to a mapping consultant on June 29, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission "had spent as much time in closed door executive meetings as it had before the public."
They go on to say that public records and statements of commissioners indicate the IRC may have violated Arizona's open meeting laws.
The story goes on to qualify its accusation, apparently targeting the voter approved language instead of the Commissioners themselves, suggesting it would not be a violation since the state Constitution grants the agency unfettered contracting authority. The story further suggests impropriety by falsely claiming state purchasing administrator Jean Clark terminated SPOs relationship with the AIRC. Her letter says she delegated that authority "to facilitate and respect the autonomy of the commission." Again, the Arizona Capitol Times suggests nefarious intent on the part of the AIRC.
The story suggests the AIRC refuses to disclose the real reason the relationship was terminated because state law prohibits disclosure of executive session discussions. However, AIRC executive director Ray Bladine told the Arizona Eagletarian that the decision was amicable and mutual. Christian Palmer has been one of the loudest critics of the AIRC. He has also written comparing and contrasting the timelines between the first AIRC and the current mapping drawing effort.
I do not recall seeing where Palmer's articles have given any consideration to expected efficiencies due to technological advances over the last ten years. But Palmer seems to have highly limiting filters (blinders). It is rather obvious to me that, once the core work of the commission begins in earnest, compiling public input, drawing the maps and preparing the matter for submission to the Department of Justice will all likely take less time than the same activity in 2001.
Since state Rep. Terri Proud (R-LD26) on Wednesday publicly called for a special legislative session hoping to put a measure on a general election ballot to undermine this year's redistricting, one might wonder if the Arizona Capitol Times isn't trying to influence the news, rather than just report it.
Enrique Medina Ochoa served as the first executive director for the first AIRC in 2001. Ochoa told the Arizona Eagletarian he understood that discussions about selection of a mapping consultant would be reasonable and appropriate for executive session and that the first AIRC had done likewise.
Notably however, Ochoa said he recalled executive sessions involving topics inappropriate for behind the door discussions, such as where to draw the lines for the first maps. Because of confidentiality requirements, Ochoa declined to get more specific.
Ochoa also said the decision to leave the AIRC in 2001 was a personal decision on his part, as his wife had taken a job in California and he decided to move with his family.
When I worked in the Arizona Capitol Times newsroom, publisher Ned Creighton would never allow "gotcha journalism" with such obviously loaded expressions. If there was a legitimate story about IRC executive session deliberations, suggestions that a "lucrative contract" was awarded without necessary public scrutiny would just not be allowed. If a story could not make the case on fact alone, it would not be published in his paper.
But Ned Creighton sold his news operation to The Dolan Company, which says its mission can best be summarized as, "We help our customers use information to succeed." One has to wonder who needs specious accusations of impropriety in order to succeed.
Does Christian Palmer have an axe (or "ax") to grind? Maybe, maybe not.