No business item proposed for a meeting was as urgent as making all of the necessary arrangements for the upcoming first round of Public Outreach Hearings, scheduled to start during the week of July 18.
But this (reasonable?, lawful) deviation from what was announced during the meeting last Friday seems to have given those who want to find fault with the Commission more to grouse about.
To make each meeting happen, staff must arrange for:
- a meeting room
- court reporter
- translators (including Sign Language)
- notice and promotion of each location
- other logistical details, most of which also must be paid for out of appropriated funds
Given that there is limited staff to assist in making these arrangements, it seems completely reasonable for the Chair to authorize staff to focus on this project instead of planning for business meetings over the next few days.
More reflections on last Friday's meeting:
During the first recess, I had a conversation with state Rep. Jack Harper (R-Surprise). Regarding the controversy over AIRC Chair Mathis' application, Harper told me he believes Mathis was the best choice of the five Independents put forward by the screening committee. He also told me he believed the end result of the redistricting process was "in the bag," and has been since the commissioners were appointed last winter. Of course, since Harper did not stay around to take his turn when called to give public comment, I can only speculate as to what he meant by "in the bag."
It wouldn't be a real conversation with Jack Harper if he hadn't said something awkward or controversial.
Expounding on the litigation over the 2001 redistricting, Harper told me that legal fees for the Minority Coalition for Fair Redistricting, which challenged the AIRC maps, were paid by the legislature. Thinking that was a strange claim to make, I asked him how that happened, and by what mechanism did this take place. He specifically told me he did not remember but was sure it took place.
That evening, Michael Mandell, an attorney who was a member of the legal team that represented the Minority Coalition, told me that claim is patently untrue. He said more than $1 million in earned fees were never paid. By anyone. Mandell did tell me that for one of the legal actions, however, the AIRC was ordered by a federal judge to pay some legal fees. That small portion was paid by the Arizona Dept. of Administration, Risk Management division. Risk Management is the self-insurance mechanism for Arizona state government. Specific payouts are not appropriated or otherwise authorized by the legislature.
What this boils down to is that the amount paid from risk management, ordered by a federal judge, was a loss caused by something the 2001 AIRC did or decided.
One has to wonder, what do people who complain about the pace of the work being done by the AIRC -- and who want to see Colleen Mathis removed from her position -- really understand about the process. Besides the desire to hinder the work of the Commission, what possibly motivates these people? Do these people understand the ramifications, in terms of the time line, of the possibility of any commissioner being removed?
Are the people who start that kind of grumbling the same people who claim that the only way Arizona is going to get new districts is by having some judge in some court draw those maps? Have those people already chosen a judge to draw the maps they will favor?
Or better yet, what makes them think they will be able to fool enough of the people, enough of the time, to force the governor and legislature to even try to remove Mathis?
AIRC staff has indicated that they have received quite a few letters calling for Mathis to resign. I saw an email from Phoenix area political activists saying that "the Governor has reportedly received "100's" of letters asking/demanding the resignation of the IRC Chair, Colleen Mathis."
It is incredibly clear to me that most of those letters are from people who have been "distracted and deceived" intentionally by some. Regardless of how many letters and phone calls people make to Brewer and to legislative leaders, those officials have to look beyond the distractions to the real LEGAL and political issues in play in this situation.
Article 4, Part 2, Section 1, Subsection 10 says:
After having been served written notice and provided with an opportunity for a response, a member of the independent redistricting commission may be removed by the governor, with the concurrence of two-thirds of the senate, for substantial neglect of duty, gross misconduct in office, or inability to discharge the duties of office.Since this is a political situation, the political possibilities are many. But can the governor dare to even attempt to remove Mathis if there is no tangible "substantial neglect of duty." "gross misconduct in office," or "inability to discharge the duties of office?"
What is "substantial neglect of duty?"
Does or should the constitutional definition of "gross misconduct in office" include if "enough people pester the governor?" Does or should the definition include, "if enough people simply disagree vehemently with the commissioner's decisions?"
Can anyone legitimately say that Colleen Mathis has exhibited "inability to discharge the duties of [her] office?"
Again, somebody needs to tell these people what Rick Stertz said to Arizona Capitol Times reporter Evan Wyloge, “I’m sick of Colleen (Mathis) sitting here, getting beat up,” Stertz said. “We have a lot of work to get done in a short amount of time, so that issue can hopefully go to rest.”