Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Friday, April 29, 2011

Redistricting -- May 3rd meeting

The next meeting of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is scheduled for 9:30am, Tuesday, May 3rd at the State Library Conference Room, second floor in the Capitol Bldg. (access is easiest by elevator in the hallway between the original capital wing and the executive tower).

The agenda calls for Ray Bladine to deliver his executive director's report.  The commission will also deal with problems related to minutes of prior meetings (a problem that apparently has not yet been solved).  This will include making corrections to previously approved minutes. Of course, the agenda also calls for a time to take public comment.

Bladine told me that he has discussed his idea for a deputy director with the commission and it will be addressed in this meeting. Because the existing position is already exempt from merit system protections (and hiring procedures), if authorized by vote of the commission, Bladine intends to hire Kristina C. Gomez to be his deputy director.

Gomez interviewed for the executive director position and served as Community Outreach Representative for the first IRC.  You may view her resume here and here.

Bladine told me he expects this could be a long meeting, with potentially extended executive sessions for "discussing contract matters relating to hiring" mapping and legal consultants.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Met with Congressman Schweikert today

Though he denied he's having fun, Republican David Schweikert sure looked and sounded like he's enjoying his job as the newest Representative from Arizona's Fifth Congressional District.

Traffic from Scottsdale to Tempe's South precinct police station was simply awful, but I was able to make my 5:50pm appointment for five minutes with Mr. Schweikert with two minutes to spare (at 5:48).  The town hall type forum was to start at 6pm and the training auditorium was already jam packed.

Schweikert's staff was gracious, recognizing my arrival was so extremely close to the appointment time.  And the Congressman was also gracious. After (very) brief small talk, I relayed (only) three specific concerns. Five minutes goes by incredibly fast, especially when that's the limit for the face time with one's Congressman.

I learned recently that the caseload for primary care medical providers at the Phoenix VA Medical Center is 1,400 veterans per provider.  Yes, one thousand four hundred.  Another source claimed the caseload was (only) 1,200 veterans per provider.  Still an incredibly high number.  My experience with the VAMC over the last four years had been that they responded very well when contacted by staff from Harry Mitchell's office.  Mitchell being Schweikert's predecessor and, at the time, chair of a key VA oversight subcommittee in Congress.

With the change in control of the US House of Representatives in January, the belt tightening (of the federal budget) has already had a dramatically adverse impact on resources for Arizona veterans' medical care.  My source also told me, though I've gotten conflicting answers when trying to confirm it, that several primary care providers (at the VAMC) had also recently quit.  The person also said a hiring freeze was in place, so replacement providers have not been hired.

In my case, a potentially severe medical problem was misdiagnosed in January this year.  Fortunately, the problem, though acute, passed and will not become chronic.  But I have to wonder how many other Arizona veterans have had medical near misses (or worse) recently.

Schweikert indicated he has some behind the scenes contacts in the VA system and would look into the situation.  Hopefully it will make a difference.

The second concern I relayed to my Congressman, also about the VA, is news (and here) a week or so ago that House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) had told a veterans group his committee will consider a proposal to drop Priority Group 7 and 8 veterans from the VA medical benefits system altogether.  Priority Groups 7 and 8 are veterans with no service-connected disability and with income and/or assets higher than certain thresholds (which vary by geographic region in the US).  I am not in either group.

Schweikert told me he had not heard that such a proposal was under consideration.  I asked him if Congress really wanted to take a baseball bat to that particular hornet's nest.  He said, without equivocation, that he did not believe the proposal would be given serious consideration.  I hope he's right on that point.

The third concern I raised had to do with the recently authorized Consumer Financial Protection Agency.  Elizabeth Warren, who has championed the cause has been in the news saying that Congress has been actively looking for ways to keep the agency from even starting.  Warren appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Tuesday (April 26). 

Schweikert told me he has met with Ms. Warren and is uncertain about what rules will be established for the consumer finance industry by this agency.  He said that lending agencies are saying they may not remain in the consumer finance business, depending on those rules.  I told him I thought that was mainly bluster and bluffing.  He, of course, graciously disagreed and our time was up.


Because of the crowd, I couldn't hear much of what Schweikert (or anyone else) had to say during the town hall meeting.  However, one point was memorable.




Congressman Schweikert relayed that many people "line up" at his office to lobby for him to do one of two things.  Of course, many call for increased federal spending on one thing or another. The other regular request is for help to develop, either by tax incentive (loophole) or some kind of change in regulation, a competitive advantage for their business.

The impression he gave is that he finds the practice distasteful.  And I agree.

But my hunch is that he will selectively take a stand, depending on whether the request is about something he believes in. After all, the way he characterized the consumer finance industry when he and I were chatting one on one, it sounded to me he favors giving them advantage -- at least advantage over consumers.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Redistricting -- sneaking an item onto an agenda? UPDATED 4/28

UPDATE 4/28:

In a phone conversation just now, IRC exec. dir Bladine told me that as a follow up to the agenda item discussed below, he will put an item on the agenda for the May 3 IRC meeting to discuss the possibility of hiring a Deputy Director.  The agenda should be available by tomorrow morning.  Look for another post on the Arizona Eagletarian about the next meeting after I see the agenda.

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The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, as expected, posted an agenda for this coming Wednesday's (now it's only tomorrow's) meeting.  As expected, the meeting will be an executive session only meeting.

NOT as expected, an item appears on the agenda which may or may NOT be appropriate for this particular executive session only meeting.

Item III states, "Discussion of hiring of administrative support staff. (A.R.S. § 38-431 (A)(1))."

A.R.S. § 38-431 (A)(1) states:

A. Upon a public majority vote of the members constituting a quorum, a public body may hold an executive session but only for the following purposes:
1. Discussion or consideration of employment, assignment, appointment, promotion, demotion, dismissal, salaries, disciplining or resignation of a public officer, appointee or employee of any public body, except that, with the exception of salary discussions, an officer, appointee or employee may demand that the discussion or consideration occur at a public meeting. The public body shall provide the officer, appointee or employee with written notice of the executive session as is appropriate but not less than twenty-four hours for the officer, appointee or employee to determine whether the discussion or consideration should occur at a public meeting.

The emphasis is mine. While I cannot say definitively whether what the AIRC wants to do is lawful, there are a couple of things I can say with at least a little bit of confidence.

The language quoted above appears to allow an executive session to consider taking a personnel action about a SPECIFIC person.  It also says that the purpose of the executive session must be (declared and) voted on publicly prior to the executive session.

On last week's agenda, item VII was moved to the end of the agenda.  Item VII was addressed in executive session.  The ONLY agenda item that could be addressed after the executive session was to adjourn the meeting.  No other action had been given proper legal advance notice. Because there was no possibility of any further reportable action, I left when the commission went into that executive session. 

Does this mean that the commission has a specific candidate already hand-picked to hire for a specific position?  There was NO discussion during any of the recent open meetings about ANY specific person to hire for a position of "administrative support staff."  I DO recall the commission directing newly hired Exec. Dir. Ray Bladine to develop a staffing plan to submit for the commissioners to consider.  And I do recall the commission having voted to hire Buck Forst for the position of Computer Support Manager.  Commissioner Herrera and Mr. Bladine were directed and authorized to negotiate a salary with Forst.

So, the question remains as to what this agenda item III really is and whether it is something that should be discussed in public session BEFORE anything could be appropriately (lawfully) scheduled for executive session.

No doubt something more should be made public, one way or another.  I will update this post after I find out what that is.

UPDATE: 2:40pm Tuesday, April 26.

I just spoke with Bladine.  He put agenda item III on for tomorrow's executive session only meeting because he has an idea of what he'd like to hire a person to do, and he has a person in mind that he wants to hire.  He will present the idea to the five commissioners and if they think it is reasonable (based on informal feedback, but no vote will be taken during the meeting tomorrow) he will approach the person to see if he (or she) is interested.

Afterward, he indicated he would be able to say what the position under consideration is and present the situation for discussion and possible action at a subsequent meeting.

This doesn't answer all of the possible questions, but at least gives an idea of what they are up to for now.

I will reiterate (probably at least from time to time) that I do not believe anything sinister is afoot, but that asking and reporting on questions like this will hopefully aid in keeping the IRC, its members and staff on their toes.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Much ado about Clean Elections

In the flurry to end the regular session, our "honorable" state senators and representatives worked diligently to silence the Arizona voter. Arizona Eagletarian readers already know that this "august" body recently approved a measure to ask voters to change their minds about the Citizens' Clean Elections Act.

However, unlike the "Birther" bill and the "Guns on Campus" bill -- both vetoed by Gov. Brewer -- SCR1025 went straight from the legislature to the Secretary of State.  Secretary Ken Bennett is now required to put the Undermining Clean Elections referendum on the general election ballot for November 2012.

Word is already on the street that promoters of UNclean elections are gearing up for the campaign.

Advocates working to minimize corporate influence in Arizona elections are also strategizing.

If YOU or anyone you know has advocated for or participated in either the Clean Money campaign finance program (for Tucson city council and mayoral races) or Clean Elections anywhere in Arizona, you can help. 

If you were a participating candidate, have contributed either "seed money" or $5 donations to help candidates qualify for Clean Elections funding, or if you have made contributions directly or through state income tax check offs to the Clean Elections fund, you can help with this effort.

To find out more, email Linda Brown at the Arizona Advocacy Network.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Arizona Redistricting -- Progress in the Works

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).

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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).

Monday, April 18, 2011

Undermining Clean Elections in Arizona

Today, the Arizona Senate concurred with changes approved last week to SCR1025, the Undermining Clean Elections referendum.

Democratic Sen. Linda Lopez voted with the Republicans.  Senate Democratic Leader David Schapira for some reason did not vote on this bill. Last week, Arizona state Reps. Ben Arredondo (D-LD17), Richard Miranda (D-LD13), Eric Meyer (D-LD11) and Ruben Gallego (D-LD16) voted with the Republican majority to allow this effort to undermine what Arizona voters already decided.

This action sends the measure to the 2012 general election ballot.

The bill is deceptively titled "Stop Public Money for Political Candidates' Campaigns."  The strategy will be to confuse voters.  If they told the truth, which is to allow more unfettered influence of corporate lobbyists on the Arizona legislature, they know Arizona voters would defeat the measure in a heartbeat. The bottom line is that if approved, this would completely kill Clean Elections in our state.

Today, Public Campaign released polling data showing that: 
Voters in Arizona strongly support the Citizens Clean Elections Act, and even more so when they hear basic information about the law – with super strong majorities of support across party lines.
The report also states that a majority of these likely voters would be less likely to vote for a legislative candidate that supported repeal of Clean Elections.

Redistricting: next meeting Wednesday, April 20

With the posting of the April 20 meeting agenda, we learn that two of the five executive director candidates interviewed last week have been invited back for more.  Former Deputy City Manager (Phoenix) Ray Bladine and former state (Arizona) government executive Geoffrey Gonsher will face a public interview this week.

Bladine was a finalist for the IRC chairman's position.  Gonsher has been director of the Arizona Dept. of Racing (2003-2008, in the Napolitano administration) and executive director of the Arizona Lottery (1997-2003, in the Hull adminstration).  Gonsher holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Arizona State in political science.

A notable departure on the agenda, public comments will be taken after the interviews.

Other agenda items include office space rental, other staff hiring issues, and discussion of the evaluation process regarding RFPs for legal and mapping consultants.

The Arizona Capitol Times reports today that Commissioners Stertz and Freeman have recommended circumventing state procurement code procedures for retaining legal counsel and mapping consultants.  They say that without doing so, it could be mid-June before these key positions are in place.  The Arizona Eagletarian reported last week about this frustration citing potential ramifications of taking short cuts in procuring these big ticket services.

Given his comments on the procurement code, Stertz appears to be gearing up for a confrontational approach to doing much of the business of redistricting.  And given that Stertz was Russell Pearce's guy for the IRC, that should not surprise anyone.

The meeting will be held this week in the Carnegie Library, 1101 W Washington St., in Phoenix.

Friday, April 15, 2011

CD5 Congressman David Schweikert schedules two community events

Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ CD5) will meet with constituents and hold open forums on Saturday, April 16th and Monday, April 18.  Start times both days is 10am.  Saturday is at Scottsdale's Arabian branch library (10215 E. McDowell Mountain Ranch Rd.); Monday at the Granite Reef Senior Center (McDowell Rd at Granite Reef).

The Antidote to Apathy!



Are Americans REALLY apathetic?  Or is there another explanation?  Can barriers to widespread civic engagement be overcome?  Please take a few minutes to consider this  brilliant message about an incredibly important topic. 

If you're reading the Arizona Eagletarian, you are certainly NOT apathetic.  Let's show all Arizonans what to do about these barriers. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What's up now with AZ redistricting?

The big issue today was (and still is) the hiring of an executive director.

At 5pm today, the commission was to meet, likely only in executive session, to discuss the threat of litigation from the Arizona Capitol Times regarding the AIRC decision to not release the names and applications of executive director prospects who didn't make the short list (for interview). 

Previously, the Arizona Eagletarian wondered why the Capitol Times was pressing the issue before the short list was even released.  A source today noted a precedent from the early 1990s involving a hiring by the Arizona Board of Regents.  At that time, the court apparently ruled applicant information must be made public.  This source believes it is important to explore whether any of the commissioners has had contact or any relationship with any of the applicants, not limited to those making the short list.

There appears to be evidence that Ray Bladine was encouraged to apply by one of the commissioners.  Who else and how much more behind the scenes wrangling has taken place is yet to be discovered. 

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EARLIER in the day -- the commission convened at 10am to give another go at setting the foundation so they can get to the business of redistricting. 

No decision was made on office space rental (it will again be on the agenda for the next meeting).

Commissioner McNulty inquired about commissioners having IRC email addresses.  None of the commissioners asked about public records law implications.  Should those be considered before any email addresses are set up?

Buck Forst, with ADOA (Dept of Administration) presented quotes (one each) on options to rent and to purchase equipment to provide live streaming online video of commission meetings. One vendor provided a quote to lease the equipment for $1,311/month.  A different vendor proposed to provide the equipment for purchase at $13,907.  

Commissioner Stertz said he had done his own research and found a range of $12K -- $20K for a mobile unit to do the job.  The quotes Forst obtained did not include the option for wireless microphones, which would likely cost an additional $2K.  The commission voted to authorize the purchase with a cost ceiling of $16K to include wireless mics.

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A great deal of irritation, including Freeman "venting his frustrations" (his words) became apparent when they arrived at the matter of RFPs.  Requests for proposals are in the works both for legal and mapping consultants.  This is where we get to the heart of the matter.

The bulk of the time and money the commission spends will revolve around these consultants and what the consultants produce.  Again, the first IRC spent roughly $6Million.  The current year appropriation is $ 1/2 Million and the budget recently signed by Gov. Brewer provides an additional $3Million.

The RFP for legal consultants was released publicly this morning.  Prior to the start of this morning's meeting, Stertz said he expects the RFP for the mapping consultant(s) to be released on or about next Thursday (April 21st).
 
In a previous meeting, Asst AG Jim Barton had recommended adhering to the state procurement code.  He said this would minimize risk of litigation in the future.  Stertz said he didn't recall having that discussion.  Freeman didn't recall the commission officially making that decision.

What's the big deal?   Well, according to the procurement code, the commissioners may not begin reviewing responses to the RFPs until after the closing date (April 28 for the one released today).

Conventional "wisdom" is that the wording of Prop 106 (which amended the Arizona Constitution to authorize the Independent Redistricting process) allows the IRC leeway to bypass the procurement code.

So, on the BIG money items, the Republican commissioners expressed irritation and frustration with having to adhere to practices designed to safeguard taxpayers and taxpayer funds. 

The frustration regarding time pressures is understandable.  But what are the ramifications of foregoing the procurement code?

For starters, if the commissioners begin reviewing RFPs from lawyers (for lawyer services), what's to stop them from calling one of those bidders to suggest how they might want to modify/amend their proposal?  The possibilities are endless.  Think Fife Symington and Project Slim.

On this issue, I do NOT question the motives of any of the commissioners.  The fact is, at this stage of the bidding process, motives are only negligibly relevant.  Even with the most noble of motives, the margin for error, especially if lawful measures are taken to bypass the procurement code, is enormous.

Compared to the $99.5Million dollar "oops" that Joe Arpaio now has to deal with, $3.5Million is almost immaterial.  BUT -- we're looking BACK on Arpaio's ginormous mistake with an opportunity to PREVENT things from going wrong before they happen with the AIRC.

Another BUT -- IF this IRC messes up the legal services and/or mapping consultant contracts, THIS is where disaster can sneak in between the cracks. What happens over the next few months will undoubtedly impact Arizona's political landscape (directly) for at least the next 10 years.

I fully advocate giving Commissioners Stertz and Freeman the benefit of the doubt on what they expressed this morning about procuring consultant services.  But I would rather not see room for backroom dealing (gerrymandering) be given ANY place in the process, now or anytime in the life of this particular commission.

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The next two IRC meetings are scheduled for 11am, Wednesday April 20th and 1pm, Monday May 2nd respectively.  They will be in Phoenix.  The agenda for next Wednesday's meeting should be posted by Monday morning (April 18th).

Commissioner Stertz also added that he had received feedback from people in southern Arizona hoping to have some of the meetings (like every third or fourth meeting) in Tucson.  I do know that there were a handful of Tucson Republican activists at last Friday's meeting (in Tucson).

Candidate profiles for the five executive director short list prospects were provided (with contact info redacted).  Those candidates are: Ray Bladine, David Luhan, Kristina Gomez, Geoffrey Gonsher and Manuel Cisneros.

I haven't yet reviewed those documents. If readers would like to look at them, send me an email at ArizonaEagletarian@gmail.com. I can scan and send you an image file with them.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission -- April 14th meeting

The next meeting of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission will start at 10am on Thursday, April 14.  The location is 800 W Washington Street, 1rst Floor Auditorium (Arizona Industrial Commission building).

Public comment is on the agenda before most of the action that will take place (this is how they normally do it). 

Discussion and possible action on the following items are included in the agenda.
  • Office space rental
  • Website 
  • Procurement options for audio/visual equipment (for streaming video of meetings on the internet).
  • Budget/Appropriations
  • IRC Timeline
  • Request for DOJ presentation on the preclearance process
  • Obtaining county census data
  • Interviews of 5 candidates for IRC executive director (expected to take place in exec session).
No mention on the agenda of the RFPs for legal and mapping consultants.  Interim IRC executive director Megan Darian indicated the RFPs have not yet been approved or released to the public.  No word yet on when approval and release is expected.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

April 8 Redistricting Meeting

Obviously, when most of the meeting is held in executive session, it's easy to get the feeling you're missing out on something.  But this time, the commissioners missed out too.

The Arizona Eagletarian was graced with stories, insights and anecdotes from Tucson conservative blogger The Cholla Jumps and former Republican state Rep. James Kraft. Both of these gentlemen are storytelling artistes, sometimes funny, sometimes intriguing, but certainly entertaining.

While Mr. Kraft wasn't the least bit offensive, I would be remiss to NOT reflect on his storytelling prowess and how it made news about 9 years ago (Note the segment of The Skinny labeled "Kraft Work").

Anyway, it seemed that at least three hours of the meeting was conducted without the public.  During the first executive session, it took the commissioners an hour to narrow an unspecified number of executive director candidates down to five.  The five (listed below) will be invited for an interview at next week's commission meeting in Phoenix.

Commissioner Herrera proposed doing as much of the interviewing in public session as possible.  He wanted to wait on exec sessions until after initial interviews.  Herrera was overruled by Commissioners McNulty, Freeman and Stertz.  McNulty also suggested reserving the right to hire without public discussion.  Freeman and Stertz agreed.

Recall that last week, Commissioner Mathis said she wanted to expedite the hiring process for this position. But Susan Laurence, with Dept of Administration Personnel, said it generally takes two weeks to check references.  Then, the commission decided that hiring would take place around the end of April.  It now looks like they are rushing that process. 

It's likely the commission is beginning to feel time pressure.  According to a handout with the 2001 IRC time line, an executive director was hired on March 1st, 2001.  However, if I recall correctly, that first executive director did not work out well and was replaced.

On Thursday, Yellow Sheet Reporter Christian Palmer was calling around trying to find out who was in the running for this position.  YS is a political gossip sheet published by the Arizona Capitol Times. It seemed odd that this was such a big deal before a short list of possible candidates was released by the commission.

Then, Friday's Arizona Republic reported passage of SB1288, prohibiting decertification of any licensed professional in Arizona on the basis of religion.  The article cites a controversy over Christopher Gleason being excluded from eligibility to become an IRC commissioner.

Gleason still claims he was excluded because of his religion.  However, Gleason's friend, Dick Stertz, also a man of faith and involved with some of the same religious groups/activities, was selected for the commission by Senate President Russell Pearce.

Stertz last week openly expressed his desire to closely advise the Department of Administration in this hiring process.  I wish I knew if there was any connection.  I also wish I knew why Palmer was so curious before the short list was announced.

The five candidates are:
  • Former (independent) commissioner candidate Ray Bladine
  • Christina Gomez
  • Jeffrey Geoffrey Gonsher
  • David Luhan (not to be confused with former Arizona state Rep. David Lujan) - from Lakewood, CO
  • Manuel Cisneros
Spelling of names (other than Bladine and Luhan) may or may not be accurate.  These five applications will be made public.  Bladine's application to become a commissioner is here.  He was a finalist for the chairman's spot, but was not chosen.

Discussion on the computer support specialist position revolved around whether to hire a bilingual (Spanish) individual.  Stertz proposed the idea so this person could assist with Spanish translation.  McNulty disagreed.  On this one, Herrera agreed with Stertz.  Preference, but not requirement, for a person who can speak Spanish will be advertised.

Will this preference limit the pool of candidates for the highly technical position?  And is Spanish proficiency necessary in this case if the commission hires a bilingual community outreach specialist, as it appears they intend?

The second executive session was called to finalize the RFP language for legal and mapping consultants.  Because of prior discussion about the proposed scope of work, the commissioners anticipated taking only a few minutes this time.  Legal counsel Jim Barton said that executive session was necessary because doing so openly would give potential consultants in attendance an advantage.

Neither RFP was finalized and approved, even though the "brief" executive session lasted two hours.  The commission voted to give authority -- to approve the final RFP language for the mapping consultant -- to Stertz.  And if I recall correctly, authority for the legal consultant RFP approval was delegated to Mathis.

By this time, everyone apparently had grown weary.  The commission voted to table the remaining substantive agenda items and set the next meeting for Thursday, April 14 at 10am.  They intend to then handle agenda items VI through XI from the April 8 meeting, take a lunch break and begin interviewing executive director candidates at 1pm.

Key Dept. of Administration staffers including property managers (to advise and assist on office space rental), state procurement administrators (to advise and assist on RFP development to hire legal and mapping consultants) and the state (financial) controller Joe Whitmer (to advise on budget and accounting matters) spent all or part of the executive session time not able get any work done.

I wonder what will happen when the time those public servants spent waiting gets charged against the total $3Million appropriation (only half million available before July 1rst).

UPDATE:  at the beginning of yesterday's meeting, commissioners made numerous corrections to the draft minutes from the March 31 meeting.  Yes, numerous.  The draft was very sloppy and appeared to have been prepared hastily. 

Did the commission correct all substantive errors?  What are the implications of having sloppily prepared minutes presented for approval?

The commissioners clearly are under already the gun with demands on their time, and the work of redrawing district lines has not even begun.  I believe each of the commissioners has been doing his/her homework between meetings, but what is going to get missed in approving meeting minutes over the next few weeks or months?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Next Independent Redistricting Commission meeting

The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission has established its website.

As expected, the next meeting of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is scheduled for 1pm on Friday, April 8. 

The agenda can be found here.  

Notable new items on the agenda: inviting the US Dept. of Justice to make a presentation to the commission on the preclearance process (regarding Voting Rights Act issues); discussion of the IRC timeline; and obtaining county census data.

Agenda items held over from prior meetings include the hiring processes for staff as well as legal and mapping consultants; renting office space; and how much has been appropriated by the state legislature.

The meeting location is 400 W Congress, Tucson, AZ.