Why does it really matter that Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission seems to be getting comfortable making decisions behind closed doors?
Before the IRC meeting began today, one gentleman reflected to me that it seemed like the commission was moving painstakingly slow. He asked me for my thoughts on the subject. I told him I was more interested in this commission getting the job done right.
Back in February and early March, the first four IRC commissioners deliberated in executive session with Asst. Atty. Gen. Jim Barton and Secretary of State Ken Bennett over the question of whom to select for the fifth and final commissioner position. More than one attorney suggested to me then that the process should have been done openly, allowing the public to observe.
As that was the first official action taken by the newly reconstituted commission, I chalked it up to the learning curve.
Then, last week, an agenda item popped up unexpectedly for the executive session only meeting on April 27th. I asked Executive Director Ray Bladine about it. He explained he wanted to hire a deputy executive director and he had a specific candidate (Kristina C. Gomez) already in mind. He wanted to pose the idea to the commission at the earliest possible time and no decision would be made until the next public meeting.
Today’s agenda item IV called for “discussion and possible action on retaining a Deputy Executive Director.” During the meeting, but very distinctly before any motion was made (any action taken in accordance with Open Meeting Law on this item), Commissioner Herrera posed a question that shed important light on the situation.
Herrera asked when Ms. Gomez would be starting her job as the new Deputy Executive Director. Additionally, Bladine reported that the Dept. of Administration already approved necessary changes to the position to facilitate her hiring.
To what degree is the process of citizen driven redistricting endangered when substantive negotiation is carried on outside of public scrutiny? Will they justify again circumventing Open Meeting Law by saying these two examples show that the right decision was reached even though it was done privately?
Or is it more likely they will rationalize it based on the certain crescendo of concern they will hear from county elections officials wanting enough time to properly prepare for the 2012 elections?
Make no mistake; I am not criticizing Herrera (or any one commissioner). On the contrary, Herrera has more frequently spoken out -- on the record -- in favor of conducting commission business publicly than any of the other commissioners.
Other news from today's IRC meeting:
Exec. Dir. Bladine gave his first report. He noted Buck Forst's first priority, when he begins his new job as the IRC computer support guy, next Monday will be to make streaming video available for all commission meetings. He is not sure when this will be accomplished, as they do not yet have the equipment, but it will be the first priority.
Phone numbers have been assigned and plans are in the works, but there is no specific move in date yet for offices at the Evans House. And therefore, the phone lines are not yet activated. Bladine has had discussions with the previous executive director, Adolfo Echeveste to get his insights on how things went ten years ago and what he thinks can be done differently.
The problems with accuracy of meeting minutes were not all resolved today. One change was made to (previously approved) minutes from the April 14th meeting. Public comments this blogger made at that April meeting had been drastically mischaracterized. One word -- "not" -- was added which then properly conveyed the message I had intended at that time.
The commission went into executive session at about 10:30am (properly so) for two agenda items. First they worked on the language for the mapping consultant RFP (which is still not finalized). They then spent several hours reviewing proposals from prospective legal consultants. They brought in lunch and only took very brief breaks. Emerging from executive session at 3:45pm, no action (not even to invite any of the prospects to interview or make presentations) was taken on the issue legal consultants today.
By 2:30pm, I was the only person left waiting for the end of the executive session. And I'm glad I did.
For the record, the commission made a motion for McNulty to aggregate all of the comments made by commissioners in exec. session about the mapping RFP, have her send the comments to Freeman for review, who will send it on to Bladine, who will then forward them to all five commissioners. The motion carried with no objection.
They then set meetings as follows:
- Friday, May 6 a telephonic meeting for executive session only to discuss the mapping RFP. The time is yet to be determined.
- Tuesday, May 10, 9am in Tucson, public session at a location to be determined.
- Thursday, May 12 (morning, I think 9am) in Phoenix. This is a change. Earlier, they had said the May 12 meeting would be in Tucson.
- Thursday, May 26, in Phoenix.