Saturday, February 28, 2015

Remember that Fountain Hills statue dedication on Presidents' Day?

Genuine KUDOS to the Town of Fountain Hills for its citizens chipping in and purchasing two statues/bronze sculptures -- of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, valued at $80,000.

To the best of my knowledge (when it was last checked), the dubious quotations misattributed to Jefferson are apparently still in Fountain Park, on Presidents' Row.

In the interim, a handful of citizen activists took the matter into their own hands to draft a letter that was sent this morning to the Mayor (Linda Kavanagh) and the rest of the members of the Town Council. The text of the letter follows:
Dear Mayor Kavanagh and Fountain Hills Town Council Members,
As you know, on President’s Day, February 16th, 2015, two new statues were dedicated to the Town of Fountain Hills, representing the figures of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  These generous gifts to our Town are a fine addition to “Presidents’ Row.”
However, we have the following two concerns related to this dedication:

1.     We would like to know the details of the Council’s policy regarding approval of public art and would like to know if the accompanying plaques’ text is also part of the approval process and if not, why?
2.     We have particular concerns regarding the plaque that appears next to the Thomas Jefferson statue and believe that the public is being misled to believe that the quotes under his name are accurate and attributable to him.  
It appears that seven of the eight quotes found on the plaque are spurious, incomplete or changed in some way.  One of the most alarming things we have learned is that most of the spurious quotes on the plaque can be traced to email chains that have been passed around for several years, but long ago debunked.
As patriotic residents of Fountain Hills, we want to be able to trust that there is a higher level of scholarship and scrutiny when it comes to researching American History.  We would hope that those responsible for such research would use primary sources whenever possible and if none are available, omit that information.
As one of our Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson deserves to be accurately quoted, (or not at all) for his sake, history’s sake and for the sake of those who visit our beautiful Town now and in the future.  
We respectfully request that the plaque be removed immediately and replaced with one that contains accurate information which would include the source citation.  In addition, we ask that all public artwork be revisited, authenticated and resubmitted to Council, if relevant, to ensure that they are aware of what is on display in our community under the assumption of their approval.  


[Signed by more than 60 Fountain Hills citizens/residents]

The citizens of Fountain Hills will be carefully watching for the reaction by the Town Council. The more than 60 concerned citizens who put their names on the letter hope the Council takes the opportunity to ensure the Town of Fountain Hills saves face and doesn't become the next The Daily Show punchline.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Does the GOP AZ Lege serve the predators or does it serve you? UPDATED March 2, 2015 2:45pm EST

Not so many years ago, economics professor James K. Galbraith wrote The Predator State.
Even many liberals have felt the need to genuflect before the altar of free markets, but in The Predator State, progressive economist James K. Galbraith suggests that, under the Bush administration, conservatives have clearly abandoned the Reagan dogma and replaced it with crony capitalism. Tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation, and such schemes as privatizing Social Security would divert the national treasury into private hands and give rise to "The Predator State."
It is no less so today in the Arizona governed by Scrooge McDucey and with Crony Capitalist-in-Chief JD effin' Mesnard.

On Thursday, Mesnard indignantly disrespected members of the House Democratic Caucus who dared to challenge him in floor debate on HB2611. That's Mesnard's bill to imprison everyday Arizonans with ever increasing debt. You may recall that a "thriving" payday loan industry was given a swift kick out the door by voters in 2008 who banned those loans by citizen initiative.

Well, Mesnard and Arizona's Greedy Old Pricks who control lawmaking in our state are now defiantly intent on restoring the payday loan industry. That's what Mesnard's HB2611 is about. It establishes a new "flex loan" industry. Isn't that a swell name? Gosh, it sounds so innocent, innocuous.

Well, during floor debate, Democratic Reps. Debbie McCune Davis, Mark Cardenas, Rebecca Rios and Juan Mendez (and maybe others) had very clear and very strong words to advocate against passage of this predatory lending bill. Here's the video from the 40+ minute debate on the bill.

Here's a rough transcript of Rep. Juan Mendez' comments:
Mr Chairman and members I rise in opposition to this awful bill; predatory lenders are horrible businesses that prey on the desperation of the working class with no other options.
Their loans are awful, horrible deals wherein a borrower gets a small amount of cash at an exceedingly high interest rate and agrees to pay it back in a short amount of time.
If a borrower can't pay it back then they're hit with an avalanche of fees and end up having to borrow more and then its a vicious cycle all the way down.
According to the Center for Responsible Lending, the average borrower ends up paying $1,105 to borrow just $305.
To me this is economic slavery, I’ll now borrow words from Tolstoy to explain.
"The essence of all slavery consists in taking the product of another’s labor by force."
It is immaterial whether this force be founded upon ownership of the slave or ownership of the money that they must get to live.
This bill attempts to make a market out of the vulnerable working poor people of Arizona who have no other choice but to chain themselves to a high interest loan.
We ended forced slavery, but with this bill economic slavery will be back in full force.
This bill isn’t good for people in need, this bill is for people to make money off others with no other choice.
If the video doesn't work here, watch it here, at the legislature's website.

The bottom line in this debate is that JD effin' Mesnard doesn't care whether voters pay attention to this or not. He made no bones about his intent to represent the interests of the predators.

JD effin' Mesnard personifies the Predator State.

THIS is one reason why independent redistricting is so important. If the legislature was allowed to draw its own district maps, they all would be untouchable.


On Thursday, my previous post called for a virtual attack on Dark Money. We did not succeed in getting the amendments Rep. Ken Clark wrote adopted into the bill. But the experiment in direct democracy, or at least enhanced accountability for the elected lawmakers was a success nevertheless.

A first effort in coordinating a social media outreach so voters could immediately email their representatives while floor debate took place, the project provided key insights for beginning to build a real, practical and effective Rapid Response.

We will get the bugs worked out, at least in time for the 2016 regular legislative session. My thanks to Rep. Clark for his role in this initial effort. It was, is and will be even more so a very worthy endeavor.

The time for hand wringing over the brazen ploys by Mesnard and his cronies is long gone. It's time to ORGANIZE and FIGHT BACK. Look for more information on this brand of Rapid Response soon.


Today it is a case of the grasshopper pitted against the elephant. But tomorrow the elephant will have its guts ripped outLe Loi, Vietnamese emperor, 15th Century


UPDATE           UPDATE           UPDATE

HB2611 has gotten the attention of people outside of Arizona. Michelle Styczynski with the Consumer Federation of America was waiting outside of the Supreme Court this morning to get the attention of the media when the oral arguments were finished in the redistricting lawsuit brought by the AZ (GOP) legislature against the VOTERS of Arizona. She had this sign.

The sign, of course, calls out Speaker David Gowan in hopes of shaming him into holding HB2611.

A young man with Michelle also gave me this flyer with additional information.

Look here for the latest status of HB2611.

And yes, I am on the East Coast (in DC) today. :)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Timing is everything -- Let's Launch an Immediate Virtual Attack on DARK MONEY!

Live at this link, the Arizona House of Representatives (on Thursday afternoon) is conducting floor debate. There are 10 calendars, or lists of bills to debate. Some are less controversial and get only token discussion. But some could dramatic impact.

This post contains some background, but you can also cut to the chase by skimming the proposed amendments included below and then find links to enable you to EMAIL (NOW) your state representatives.


Wednesday, on, Robert Weissman wrote:
The American political system is facing an existential crisis. Do we aim to be a democracy – meaning a system of rule by the people – or do Americans stand down and permit a very narrow elite class to operate a functioning oligarchy?
Our Constitution begins with the powerful words “We the People” and elaborates a political system in which the people are sovereign. Yet in a series of decisions, of which Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is the most notorious, the US Supreme Court has interpreted the First Amendment of that document so as to erode our democracy. Now it’s time to amend the great document to re-establish democratic principles.
And I certainly stand with Weissman, Bill Moyers and what is most likely the vast majority of Americans who are fed up and ready to Move to Amend the US Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United.

But there is action you can take NOW -- THIS minute to stem the tide and influence of DARK MONEY in Arizona.

Right now (when I first publish this post), the Arizona House of Representatives is debating bills in COW (the Committee of the Whole, aka Floor Debate). On today's COW calendar (list of bills) #9, HB2649 is listed. This is a bill the legislature needs to pass this session as a result of a court decision nullifying Arizona law governing political committees.

State Rep. Ken Clark (D-LD24/Central Phoenix), a member of the House Elections committee, in that committee, tried to get two amendments approved for inclusion in the bill. I understand those two amendments are scheduled for the floor debate on HB2649. Floor debate on COW calendar 9 is taking place NOW.

The first amendment simply strikes one word, "primary," from the existing bill, but dramatically changes the meaning.

The statutory definition of "political committee" for reporting and regulatory purposes, in the bill includes this language:

The word "primary" effectively limits which committees are subject to regulation. For example, Sean Noble's Dark Money organizations are generally organized for the exclusive (practically speaking) purpose of influencing elections. But he gets to avoid regulation by stating that primary purpose is to educate the public on issues. But if this language -- without the word "primary" is enacted into law, that closes a gap and subjects more political committees to disclosure and regulation.

The other amendment has several pages of text spelling out disclosure requirements for CORPORATIONS that make political contributions.
"Sec. 6.  Title 16, chapter 6, article 1, Arizona Revised Statutes, is amended by adding section 16-914.03, to read:
16-914.03.  Reporting contributions made by a corporation; statement; civil penalty; violation; classification; definition
A.  Any corporation that makes a contribution in at least the following amounts to a political committee or to another corporation in an attempt to influence the outcome of a candidate election shall register and notify the appropriate filing officer not later than one day after making that contribution, excluding Saturdays, Sundays and other legal holidays...
1.  An aggregate of five thousand dollars or more in one or more statewide races.
2.  An aggregate of two thousand five hundred dollars or more in one or more legislative races.
3.  One thousand dollars or more in one or more county, city, town or other local races if the one thousand dollars is aggregated in races in a single county, city, town or other local jurisdiction.
B.  The secretary of state is the filing officer for registrations and notifications for contributions in statewide and legislative elections.  City, town or county filing officers are the filing officers for notifications in a city, town, county or other local election as provided in section 16‑916.  The corporation also shall notify the filing officer within the same time limit prescribed in subsection A of this section of each additional accumulation of contributions that exceeds the threshold amount prescribed in subsection A of this section but is not required to register again during that election cycle after the initial registration.  The secretary of state shall provide for electronic filing for registrations and notifications and shall provide for website access to the information for the public.  Filings at the secretary of state's office shall be in the form prescribed by the secretary of state.  Other filing officers shall prescribe the format for filing registrations and notifications and shall provide for public access to that information.
C.  The registration shall include all of the following:
1.  The name and address of the corporation.
2.  The name, title, electronic mail address and telephone number of the person authorizing the contribution.
D.  Each notification shall include all of the following:
1.  The name and address of the corporation making the contribution.
2.  The amount of the contribution and the name of the political committee or other corporation receiving the contribution.
3.  The name of the candidate and race for which the contribution was made and whether the contribution was in support of or opposition to the candidate.
4.  The date of the contribution.
E.  The corporation shall file with the secretary of state or other appropriate filing officer within five days after an initial threshold contribution as prescribed in subsection A of this section a notarized sworn statement that the person, agent or officer filing the registration and notice had authority to make that contribution on behalf of the corporation.  Until the secretary of state or other filing officer receives the notarized sworn statement, the filing officer shall categorize the notification as unverified.  If the secretary of state or other filing officer does not receive the notarized sworn statement within the required five day time frame, the notification shall be categorized as both unverified and delinquent.  The filing officer shall make reasonable efforts to contact the entity that made the contribution and remove the notification from public view within a reasonable time if unable to verify that the entity made the contribution and all penalties prescribed in this section apply.
F.  Any corporation that fails to register, notify or disclose as required by this section is liable in a civil action pursuant to section 16‑924 brought by the attorney general, county attorney or city or town attorney, as appropriate, for a civil penalty of up to three times the total amount of the contributions.
G.  Any person who makes a knowingly false filing relating to a contribution pursuant to this section is guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor.  A civil or criminal enforcement action may not be filed until after the filing officer issues a reasonable cause determination.
H.  For the purposes of this section, "Local election" means an election in a county, city, town, school district or special district."
If you know who your state reps are, go to the House MEMBER page to get their email addresses and IMMEDIATELY send them an assertive, yet polite message indicating you want them to vote in favor of the amendments.

If you do not know who your state reps are, go to the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission's website to find out.

This virtual UPRISING should get lawmakers attention. Thanks for helping out.

Name Sort By Name
District Sort By District
Phone (602)

John Christopher Ackerley 2 R 127 926-3077
John M. Allen 15 R 131 926-4916
Lela Alston 24 D 330 926-5829
Richard C. Andrade 29 D 125 926-3130
Brenda Barton 6 R 114 926-4129
Jennifer D. Benally 7 D 121 926-3079
Reginald Bolding 27 D 116 926-3132
Sonny Borrelli 5 R 113 926-5051
Russell "Rusty" Bowers 25 R 309 926-3128
Paul Boyer 20 R 129 926-4173
Kate Brophy McGee 28 R 304 926-4486
Noel W. Campbell 1 R 345 926-3124
Mark A. Cardenas 19 D 334 926-3014
Heather Carter 15 R 303 926-5503
Ken Clark 24 D 115 926-3108
Regina Cobb 5 R 335 926-3126
Doug Coleman 16 R 306 926-3160
Diego Espinoza 19 D 118 926-3134
Karen Fann 1 R 316 926-5874
Edwin W. Farnsworth 12 R 224 926-5735
Charlene R. Fernandez 4 D 126 926-3098
Mark Finchem 11 R 337 926-3122
Randall Friese 9 D 325 926-3138
Rosanna Gabaldón 2 D 117 926-3424
Sally Ann Gonzales 3 D 331 926-3278
David M. Gowan Sr.
Speaker of the House
14 R 223 926-3312
Rick Gray 21 R 224 926-5993
Albert Hale 7 D 323 926-4323
Anthony Kern 20 R 341 926-3102
Jonathan R. Larkin 30 D 318 926-5058
Jay Lawrence 23 R 339 926-3095
Vince Leach 11 R 342 926-3106
David Livingston
Majority Whip
22 R 207 926-4178
Phil Lovas 22 R 110 926-3297
Stefanie Mach 10 D 329 926-3398
Debbie McCune Davis 30 D 333 926-4485
Juan Jose Mendez 26 D 120 926-4124
Javan D. "J.D." Mesnard 17 R 308 926-4481
Eric Meyer
Minority Leader
28 D 320 926-3037
Darin Mitchell 13 R 313 926-5894
Steve Montenegro
Majority Leader
13 R 208 926-5955
Jill Norgaard 18 R 128 926-3140
Justin Olson 25 R 204 926-5288
Lisa A. Otondo 4 D 123 926-3002
Warren H. Petersen 12 R 312 926-4136
Franklin M. Pratt 8 R 226 926-5761
Rebecca Rios
Minority Whip
27 D 322 926-3073
Tony Rivero 21 R 344 926-3104
Bob Robson
Speaker Pro Tempore
18 R 222 926-5549
Macario Saldate 3 D 332 926-4171
Andrew C. Sherwood 26 D 119 926-3028
Thomas "T.J." Shope 8 R 112 926-3012
Victoria Steele 9 D 324 926-5683
David W. Stevens 14 R 205 926-4321
Bob Thorpe 6 R 130 926-5219
Kelly Townsend 16 R 302 926-4467
Michelle R. Ugenti 23 R 111 926-4480
Ceci Velasquez 29 D 124 926-3144
Jeff Weninger 17 R 338 926-3092
Bruce Wheeler
Assistant Minority Leader
10 D 321 926-3300

Today it is a case of the grasshopper pitted against the elephant. But tomorrow the elephant will have its guts ripped outLe Loi, Vietnamese emperor, 15th Century

Monday, February 23, 2015

Funeral for Solar -- thanks Obama... er, Salt River Project

Early this evening, about two dozen activists held a solemn remembrance ceremony for Rooftop Solar in Arizona.

Randy Miller, who recently established the website Stop Raising Prices, spoke about the impending hit to the Arizona economy that SRP's solar job killing proposal will mean to each of us. Event organizer Patrick Barrett and Larky Hodges also spoke, after Tempe city councilwoman Lauren Kuby opened with words of thanks for what Rooftop Solar has meant to her and our state up until this point.

Kudos also to Sarah Jean Kutzler for her work on raising the next generation of activists. A couple of other concerned parents also brought their children out for the funeral.

The most important take away from tonight's event is that we need a lot more concerned citizens to show up Thursday morning (February 26) around 8:45 for the SRP Board meeting to make it very clear that approving the proposal to kill Rooftop Solar will not be without massive repercussions.

Because Salt River Project is a political subdivision of the State of Arizona, and because it is subject to Arizona Revised Statutes, the people of Arizona have a potent tool available -- direct democracy (aka citizen initiatives) -- to eventually intervene.


Today it is a case of the grasshopper pitted against the elephant. But tomorrow the elephant will have its guts ripped outLe Loi, Vietnamese emperor, 15th Century

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Salt River Project -- Let's SAVE Solar!

Because the Board of Directors for Salt River Project plans to vote on Thursday morning, February 26, in favor of a $50/month surcharge for homes in its electric service territory with newly installed rooftop solar power generating units, activists and concerned citizens are planning two events this week to call attention to this egregious action.

Monday evening, February 23, 6:30 pm at the entrance to Tempe Beach Park, there will be a peaceful demonstration to symbolically hold a Funeral for Solar. Because of the solemn occasion of a funeral, organizers ask attendees to wear black.

Lets Save Solar Protests SRP Rate Increase with Funeral for Solar
(Phoenix) --- Local activists and community leaders are holding a public demonstration Monday evening to demand that SRP not raise rates on solar customers at this weeks Board of Directors meeting. Because the proposed SRP rate increase would effectively “pull the plug” on rooftop solar in Arizona, the demonstration is being called a Funeral for Solar. This event is being held on Monday, February 23rd, 2015.
WHO: Lauren Kuby, Tempe Councilmember, and 50 sustainability activists and community leaders
WHAT: “Funeral for Solar” press conference and demonstration
WHERE: Entrance to Tempe Beach Park, NW corner of Rio Salado Pkwy. and Mill Ave. in Tempe
WHEN: February 23, 2015, 6:30-7:00pm
WHY: Demand that SRP’s Board of Directors not vote to pull the plug on rooftop solar.

On Thursday morning, protesters will gather at SRP's Pera Club at 8:45 am. Last time, more than 700 protesters showed up. Let's make this one even bigger.

For more details and a link to a map to find the Pera Club, go here.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

AZ lege's final brief in lawsuit to be argued in 9 days before SCOTUS

A few days ago, counsel for Andy Biggshot and David Gowan (successor to Andy Toxin) filed the final brief with the Supreme Court.

Maybe it's wishful thinking on my part, but from the list of arguments detailed in the table of contents, it looks like former US solicitor general Paul Clement has conceded that the Independent Redistricting Commission has a winning case.

The main idea I get from the ToC is that the legislature is hoping that SCOTUS will at least allow it to have some role in developing the Congressional district map for Arizona. Not quite the same as a Hail Mary pass, more like a field goal to tie the game at the end of the fourth quarter.

The first sentence of the text for this reply brief:
The Elections Clause deliberately delegates the primary authority for prescribing regulations for congressional elections, including redistricting, to state legislatures.
That's a decidedly different tone than I recall the plaintiff's previous briefs have taken. Addition of the word "primary" changes the meaning. Otherwise, it would sound like they have up to this point. "The Elections Clause deliberately delegates the ... authority for prescribing regulations for congressional elections, including redistricting, to state legislatures."

Of course, I could be entirely mistaken. I hope I'm not. Clement's next sentence begins,
The Arizona law challenged here just as deliberately takes the redistricting authority away from the Legislature...
The mere fact that the Legislature acknowledges that the issue is "The Arizona law..." validates the notion that Arizona's legislative power does NOT reside solely with "The Legislature."

I am comfortable analyzing and taking apart the language from a language perspective. I don't claim to have any legal education or professional background to predict with any degree of certainty what outcome will eventually emerge from the court.

Besides acknowledging that for me, this may boil down to simply wishful thinking, my main concern is that this brief doesn't represent a "rope-a-dope" tactic by the Legislature. Well, as long as it doesn't cause counsel for the IRC to let down its guard, I don't really mind if that was the Legislature's intent.

The brief's conclusion is simply: "The Court should reverse the decision below." That would be the trial court decision, of course. The last two paragraphs preceding the conclusion state:
As the Framers well understood, while alternatives may sound good in theory, it is hard to beat representative democracy in practice. That is why the Framers gave the primary authority to prescribe regulations for congressional elections to the state legislatures and not some unelected and unaccountable commission. Ultimately, appellees’ position is not that this power should be given to the People, but that redistricting is too fraught with difficulties to be entrusted to the normal lawmaking process, and should be given to just such an unelected commission.
This Court has already rejected two efforts to exempt redistricting from the constraints faced by state legislatures in their ordinary lawmaking process. Facing the voters every few years is perhaps the most important of those constraints. Appellees would free redistricting from that constraint and redelegate the authority from an elected and accountable body hand-picked by the Framers to a different group that possesses none of those virtues. As the Court concluded about a different reform-minded initiative in Thornton, the option open for appellees’ proposal lies in Article V, not in ignoring the plain terms of Article I.
So, finally, perhaps because of the breadth and depth of the amicus briefs filed in support of the Redistricting Commission's position, the Legislature has had to come to grips with the arguments against the Legislature's position. This seems to be the first actual acknowledgment by them for that point.

In so doing, the Legislature continues to hammer on the false meme about the IRC being "unelected and unaccountable." They use the phrase quite a few times in the final brief. In what likely IS the Legislature's Hail Mary pass, suggesting the voters only legitimate option would be an Article V convention, seems like a long shot to me.

The Legislature can only even pretend to claim the IRC is unaccountable is because when IT tried to decapitate the IRC in 2011, the Arizona Supreme Court put a stop to it. Instead, the episode demonstrated that it was the LEGISLATURE which was unaccountable to the PEOPLE in what was really a misguided effort to exercise authority it no longer rightfully owned. The people of Arizona put a stop to the hubris-filled GOP/ALEC-owned cabal that consistently does more to subvert the will of voters than to fulfill it.

The fact of the matter is that if there actually had been IRC misconduct in 2011, instead of simply the political squabble the Legislature threw a tantrum over, it could have fired/impeached/removed one or more of the commissioners. So, that argument is complete bullshit.

Again, and I think I've made this point before, if the Legislature was -- in a practical sense -- accountable to the people, we wouldn't have needed to implement independent redistricting in the first place.


The other recent development in this lawsuit is that SCOTUS, on Friday, granted the motion by the US solicitor general (DOJ) to argue as amicus curiae at the hearing on March 2nd. Other than the parties (Legislature and IRC), DOJ will be the only amici participating in the oral arguments.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Why does the AZ Legislature refuse to make charter schools accountable to taxpayers?

This morning, non-profit investigative journalism website ProPublica published a story about problems with charter school accountability. This is not a new issue in or for Arizona.

In 2008, David Safier blogged about the problem,
Charter schools are public schools, but they are free from most of the regulation and accountability imposed on traditional public schools. Really, just about the only thing charters have to do is make their students take state tests. Otherwise, they spend their money with only the most minimal accounting, they hire teachers who may or may not have credentials, and they have few if any visitors from the Department of Education checking in to see if they are making reasonable attempts at educating their students.
Many charter schools don't need more regulation and oversight. They have hard working owners and dedicated staff. They're doing a great job without anyone's help. In those cases, additional regulatory precautions are unnecessary but probably not harmful. But Arizona's charter school history is littered with mismanaged schools, sometimes run by people who kept tax dollars for themselves that were intended for their students' educations. For all we know, there are dozens of schools like that in operation right now. But we don't know for sure, because nobody's checking. We're letting that "invisible hand of the marketplace" work its magic. But those of us older than ten years old know that magic is done with smoke, mirrors and sleight of hand. When it's performed for a willing audience, it's fun. When it's inflicted on us by scoundrels, it's dangerous. 
On the other hand, the Arizona Charter Schools Association says:
Simply put, a charter is a contract to improve student achievement. Arizona laws provide public charter schools more autonomy in exchange for greater accountability for improved student achievement. Charters are evaluated for their academic, fiscal and operational compliance. They are held accountable for students’ academic performance, compliance with state laws and management of public funding. (emphasis added)
Charters in Arizona can be authorized by the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools, the Arizona Department of Education, school districts, and Arizona universities and community colleges. Arizona provides families the opportunity to choose the school that best fits the needs of their child. 
ProPublica's story highlights the fact that authorizing agencies are the ones responsible for holding their charter schools accountable. But do they do so?

The ACSA's page on Charter School Laws says very little, except:
Arizona has many statues that apply specifically to charter schools, most located in Title 15-181 to 15-189.03 of the Arizona Revised Statutes (“A.R.S.”). Arizona law states that charter schools are public schools created to improve student achievement and provide additional academic choices for parents and students.
If you do not understand a statute or need legal advice regarding the application of a statute to a specific situation, please consult with your charter school attorney.
The rest of the content for that page is for ACSA members only, with login required. That looks more like PR than accountability. Make the public THINK you want charter schools to be accountable, but HIDE the details so the public cannot hold them actually accountable. For the record, the public can read ARS Title 15 and all of its contents on the Arizona Legislature's website, without having to log in.

Now, if charter schools actually were willing to be accountable, wouldn't you think they should have no problem with having to be subject to the same audit and ongoing financial monitoring requirements as traditional public schools? A.R.S. 41-1279.03 spells out the duties and powers of the Arizona Auditor General. Among those responsibilities, subsection A, paragraph 9 requires the agency to "conduct performance audits AND monitor school districts to determine the percentage of every dollar spent in the classroom by the school district."

This is so important that Scrooge McDucey is demanding, in his FY2016 budget request (still to be authorized by the legislature; FY2016 begins on July 1, 2015) that district schools reduce NON-classroom spending by five percent.
Gov. Doug Ducey's proposal calls for a 5 percent reduction in non-classroom spending. Schools calculate that the reduction would mean $113 million less to spend statewide on things such as technology, textbooks and staff, including school library, food service and health workers.
If McDucey and the Republican-dominated legislature was genuinely interested in ensuring taxpayer money is used wisely to educate our children, then why is Sen. Andrea D'Alessandro's SB1396 dying of neglect? SB1396 would make charter schools subject to the same performance audit and financial monitoring requirements that district schools already face.
9.  Beginning on July 1, 2001, Establish a school-wide schoolwide audit team in the office of the auditor general to conduct performance audits and monitor school districts and charter schools to determine the percentage of every dollar spent in the classroom by a school district or charter school.  The performance audits shall determine whether school districts and charter schools that receive monies from the Arizona structured English immersion fund established by section 15‑756.04 and the statewide compensatory instruction fund established by section 15‑756.11 are in compliance with title 15, chapter 7, article 3.1.  The auditor general shall determine, through random selection, the school districts and charter schools to be audited each year, subject to review by the joint legislative audit committee.  A school district or charter school that is subject to an audit pursuant to this paragraph shall notify the auditor general in writing as to whether the school district or charter school agrees or disagrees with the findings and recommendations of the audit and whether the school district or charter school will implement the findings and recommendations, implement modifications to the findings and recommendations or refuse to implement the findings and recommendations.  The school district or charter school shall submit to the auditor general a written status report on the implementation of the audit findings and recommendations every six months for two years after an audit conducted pursuant to this paragraph.  The auditor general shall review the school district's or charter school's progress toward implementing the findings and recommendations of the audit every six months after receipt of the district's or charter school's status report for two years.  The auditor general may review a school district's or charter school's progress beyond this two‑year period for recommendations that have not yet been implemented by the school district or charter school.  The auditor general shall provide a status report of these reviews to the joint legislative audit committee.  The school district or charter school shall participate in any hearing scheduled during this review period by the joint legislative audit committee or by any other legislative committee designated by the joint legislative audit committee.
Language in red, with strike-out, would be eliminated from the statute. Language in blue would be added to the statute. SB1396 has not been heard in committees and was assigned to extra committees to make it that much more difficult to pass.

A few days ago, Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts asked, "Why does the Arizona Legislature hate public schools?" A question that gets to the heart of the matter. But she didn't answer the question and neither did any of the 28 comments readers posted on azcentral in response to her column. The closest anyone came to the answer was Bob Littlefield, former Scottsdale City Councilman and 2014 Republican primary candidate for a House seat in LD23. Roberts said,
The Arizona Legislature continues its campaign to dismantle traditional public education this week.
It seems our leaders aren't content with years of starving the schools of adequate funding. They're not content with the choices already offered by charters or through tuition tax credits that have diverted millions of tax dollars to private schools.
Heck, they're not even content with Gov. Doug Ducey's proposal to cut operating funds for K-12 schools by another $13.5 million next year.
So now comes Senate Bill 1434, allowing virtually any parent of a public-school student to siphon money from the state and put it toward private- or parochial-school tuition.
Littlefield, in his comment, blamed voters and public school supporters,
The people who want to undermine public education work hard to support their candidates and they turn out to vote. Supporters of public education, not so much.
Because words are powerful, I would suggest one problem is when newspaper columnists use the label "leaders" when writing about lawmakers. That reinforces the connotation that voters can't do anything to fix the problem. No, I generally abhor referencing characters like Scrooge McDucey and Andy Biggshot as leaders. They are authority figures because WE delegated our authority as citizens to them. They need to follow our direction. And McDucey has already, less than two months into his term, demonstrated that he can be made to backtrack on bad decisions and ideas.

Ultimately, the bottom line answer to Roberts' question is: there are too damn many Republicans in the Arizona Legislature. People can complain about the voters all they want, but really, it just plain boils down to that Arizonans have been duped long enough and hard enough that we have had to endure years of Republican domination of public policy formation and lawmaking.

If that was not the case, D'Alessandro's bill (SB1396) would have passed a long time ago and we would be able to have an informed policy debate about the merits of charter schools based on comparability of data supplied by the Arizona Auditor General.

In the meantime, we are stuck and the dismantling of Arizona's K-12 public education continues at breakneck speed.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Fountain Hills dedication of Washington and Jefferson statues on Presidents Day -- effort to rewrite history!

Monday is Presidents Day, which makes it a fitting day to dedicate two statues that have been donated to the Town of Fountain Hills by unnamed residents. The bronze statues, one of George Washington and one of Thomas Jefferson, have been placed in Fountain Park. The dedication is scheduled for Monday afternoon at 2pm.

In a December 2014 meeting, the Fountain Hills town council approved a motion accepting the gift, with a stated value at $80,000. From page 6 of the minutes from the December 18, 2014 council meeting,
Community Services Director Mark Mayer Addressed the Council relative to this agenda item and advised that included in the Council's packets are copies of a letter from the Chair of the Public Art Committee, which details the two pieces. He noted that "George Washington" and "Thomas Jefferson" are both life size bronze sculptures created by Colorado artists George and Mark Lundeen and are being donated by local residents. He pointed out that a fundraising campaign is currently going on. He stated that the Public Art Committee has requested that the Town agree to accept and place them on public display in Fountain Park. He reported that the pieces are valued at $80,000 and the cost to insure the pieces will be $344 annually. He displayed pictures of the art pieces (copies of which are available on line and in the office of the Town Clerk) and said that the intent is to place them in the southwest corner of the park where the other Presidential art pieces have been placed.
View the sculptures on pages 162 and 163 of the council packet from the December 18 meeting. They are certainly impressive pieces of art.

This intrigues me because, as I have been told, a plaque allegedly containing quotes of statements made by Jefferson is due to accompany the statue. "Allegedly" being the operative word.

Most of these quotes and quips have been disavowed by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. According to the Foundation,

The bottom line is that the plaque was NOT approved by the council on December 18. My sources tell me that the plaque, which apparently was already put with the statues, may be taken down when staff and members of the Public Art Committee determine that the quotes are not properly attributable to the third President of the United States.

Questions that should be asked of and/or by members of the Fountain Hills Town Council include (but are not necessarily limited to):
  • Why was the plaque not included in the December 18 presentation or agenda packet for the members?
  • Who (on the Public Art Committee) came up with the hare-brained scheme to put quotes thought to be from Jefferson on the plaque?
  • Who should be held responsible for failing to determine the veracity of the quotes?
Now, given that only one of the quotes can be properly attributed as claimed by the Public Art Committee, where DID those quotes come from and what was the real intent to include such dubious information on an official piece of art installed in a Town park?

Friday, February 13, 2015

What REALLY happened at the SRP hearing this week?

Attorney Court Rich, whose practice includes advocacy on energy matters and the solar industry in particular, penned the following op-ed with specifics on problems that surfaced as a result of Salt River Project's ill-advised plan to tax the hell out of rooftop solar.*

If SRP's Board of Directors actually does vote on February 26 to assess an arbitrary fee (of ANY amount) on customers with rooftop solar, it will rightfully be characterized as a move to "kneecap" the industry.
It wasn’t a great week for SRP’s management. Not only were they confronted by a diverse group of 800 customers upset with the monopoly’s discriminatory attempt to kill the solar industry but they utterly failed to rebut the fact based defenses that solar representatives raised. Oh, yeah, there was also that little problem where the GM, Mark Bonsall completely undermined the monopoly’s entire case for levying punishing demand charges on residential customers. I will start with that last part first.
On Monday Mr. Bonsall took great pains to tell his Board and the throngs of angry solar supporters how utterly fair the proposed solar tax hike is for customers. Bonsall repeated the common SRP theme that demand charges are simple, and that they permit customers to simply “choose” to lower their demand in order to recognize even greater savings. Bonsall talked about the seeming effortlessness of this simple customer “choice” to lower demand. SRP even talked about how much more solar customers could save by lowering demand 20, 40, or even 60%.
This all changed in the follow up meeting on Thursday where the obvious question was asked: “if demand charges are the best way to recover utility costs, why wouldn’t SRP impose them on all 985,000 of its customers?” “Whoa there” said Bonsall and another management representative. Residential customers were said to have, “neither the desire nor inclination to manage or understand demand charges.” Bonsall, seemingly forgetting about the last two months of company spin and his presentation from Monday, went on to explain just how impossibly complicated it is for residential customers to manage demand. Poof! SRP management’s credibility was shot in a single instant as they were exposed as asking solar customers to abide by a set of rules that are impossibly complicated for any of their customers to follow.
This highlights just how disingenuous SRP’s claims all along have been that a solar customer could simply reduce demand by 60% to end up with the same savings they recognize today. It’s good to see Bonsall and SRP now admit what solar customers have been saying all along; that it is impossibly complicated to manage your demand and it is completely unfair to stick solar customers with something you would never foist upon others.
SRP management wasn’t satisfied simply outing themselves as being completely dishonest in their earlier assessment of the fairness of residential demand charges, but they then went on to attempt to deny ratemaking truisms. My presentation to the Board on Monday pointed out the relative hypocrisy of management’s claims to want to end an alleged $7 million solar “cost shift” while supporting $180 million in intra-class cost shifts baked into its E23 and E26 rate classes. Intra-class cost shifts (along with inter-class cost shifts) are an unavoidable and standard part of ratemaking. Rather than simply admit “okay, you got us, there are and always have been cost shifts in rates” SRP management attempted a defense akin to arguing the sky is not blue.
Management criticized me for not looking at cost of service by stratum within each rate class without mentioning to the Board that management itself doesn’t look at cost of service by stratum. In fact, during the interview process, SRP’s CFO told me three times they do not compute cost of service by strata in setting their rates. This disingenuous defense of their spin doesn't change anything. SRP’s rates include massive cost shifts from those paying less to those paying more. Hundreds of millions of dollars are shifted by hundreds of thousands of customers and management doesn't whisper one peep about the fairness of these structural shifts. This is pure hypocrisy and SRP was exposed badly as simply cherry picking an argument to try and harm solar unfairly.
The Board was also informed, and the management didn't deny, that management doesn’t actually know how many of its solar customers actually pay or don’t pay their cost of service. So, management is willing to launch a campaign based on the premise that solar customers don’t pay their fair share yet, has not even looked into what that fair share is.
On another obvious cost shift SRP tried to stick the landing on a complicated move of linguistic gymnastics to avoid saying the word “subsidy.” Apparently, when SRP’s electric customers transfer approximately $1.5 billion to subsidize the underperformance of its water service over the last 30 years this is not a “subsidy” but a “contribution from revenue.” You can argue the merits of this subsidy from electricity to water if you like but we all know a subsidy when we see it.
On Monday Mr. Bonsall demonstrated a willingness to simply ignore facts that are indisputable when he predicted to the Board that the solar industry would continue to grow under the new plan. The problem with Mr. Bonsall’s bold claim is that it has already been proven false. SRP saw less than two dozen applications for solar in the first month-plus under the new plan after having hundreds per month, every month, for years prior. The industry won’t thrive or grow under the new plan and is already dead today. Mr. Bonsall knows this but decided instead to make unsupportable claims to support their attempts to kill solar.
Management wasn’t alone in taking a hit to credibility as the Board’s own consultant was completely unaware of important studies he was to have reviewed and been advising the board on to guide its decision process. He was entirely unaware of the management’s deeply flawed value of solar analysis. His failure to even know about this important study calls into question all of his advice. In an uncomfortable moment, the Board’s consultant was rightly questioned by a Board Member about his independence in reviewing the management proposal. He had previously testified in the interview process that he was involved from the time of the creation of the pricing proposal itself and offered feedback and asked questions during the preparation of the document he was then hired to review and critically examine.
So, what did we learn this week? First, SRP management is asking solar customers to submit to a rate plan that is so impossibly complicated to manage and understand that it wouldn’t dream of asking any of its 985,000 residential customers to do the same. Second, we learned that management is so anxious to kill the solar industry that it is willing to try and obfuscate undeniable truths about how its rates work. Third, we learned that while SRP management is attempting to rally public feelings in opposition to alleged unfair “cost shifts,” it is proposing a rate plan that has more than 400,000 customers shifting hundreds of millions of costs onto others. Fourth, the Board really needs an advisor that: 1) is aware of the documents he should be reviewing and what they say; and 2) that is independent and was not involved in the creation of the documents he is then asked to independently review. Finally, we learned that the solar industry’s last hope is that the Board sees through the misdirection and changing stories they are being fed and rises up to demand fair treatment and quality analysis instead of discriminatory rates aimed at stalling a thriving industry. With all the leadership that SRP has shown in working to attract jobs to Arizona, I fully expect that at some point the Board will realize not just how unfair and unsupportable this plan is but just how bad this proposal is for the economy. (emphasis, throughout, added)
By Court Rich, Senior Partner, Rose Law Group, representing The Alliance for Solar Choice. This column first appeared in the Rose Law Group Reporter. 

* NOTE: In the linked employer review, a former employee describes SRP,
Slow to adopt new technological advances. Some project leaders do not have a background in engineering or utility industry experience.
and gives this advice to management:
Harvest the abundant sunshine in solar power! Install solar-power rooftops in company car park areas!
Wouldn't you expect a forward thinking ARIZONA-based power generating utility would have already done that? WTF, Mr. Bonsall?

If SRP thinks it will get away with the kind of squandering of ratepayer cash that APS did with its recent Dark Money campaigns, it will be sorely disappointed. 800 protesters Monday is only the tip of the iceberg. The hearing auditorium was filled to capacity with overflow outside.

Let's suppose that SRP wants to save face (actually, I hope they do). Bonsall and his cronies are going to have to get resourceful and change course.

Conceptually, APS being a publicly traded corporation (or rather a subsidiary of publicly traded Pinnacle West), an IOU (investor-owned utility) has ways to hide or at least make it difficult for investigative journalists to find the juicy details of its clandestine political maneuvering. SRP is a political subdivision of the State of Arizona.

SRP has ways to obscure discovery also but its corporate structure (as a government agency) may make it subject to a citizens initiative. It really should watch what it asks for with this rate proposal. The people of Arizona have a long and ever deepening history of direct democracy. And I doubt Arizonans will take a cotton to SRP's efforts to kill the rooftop solar industry.


Today it is a case of the grasshopper pitted against the elephant. But tomorrow the elephant will have its guts ripped outLe Loi, Vietnamese emperor, 15th Century