Horne investigates redistricting commission over alleged procurement, open meeting violations - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Horne investigates redistricting commission over alleged procurement, open meeting violations

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Posted: Thursday, July 21, 2011 4:07 pm | Updated: 5:17 pm, Thu Jul 21, 2011.

Attorney General Tom Horne is investigating whether the commission charged with drawing new legislative and congressional boundaries violated state procurement and open meeting laws.

Horne said his agency has received "lots of calls and e-mails" from individuals who are concerned about the activities of the Independent Redistricting Commission. Much of that involves the decision of the five-member panel to hire Strategic Telemetry to help it draw the lines, a firm that has done campaign work for both Barack Obama and John Kerry.

"We don't have any reason to believe that anything was done wrong at this point," said Horne, who is a Republican like many of those who have complained. "But we think it's best for confidence in the system that we investigate thoroughly."

Horne said the allegations were enough to get his attention.

"Basically you have a situation where there was a three-hour executive session and then a decision made immediately upon returning," he told Capitol Media Services. "That information, without more, does not necessarily mean anything was done wrong."

He said other questions have been raised, including in a story by the Arizona Capitol Times, about whether some of the documents involved in screening the applicants for the mapping consultant - the contract eventually given to Strategic Telemetry - were destroyed or hidden. And he said there also are claims that commissioners talked with each other on the phone.

"If there were more than two on the telephone arriving at conclusions, that would be a violation of the Open Meeting Law," he said. "So there's more then innuendo. But we don't know if the allegations are true or not."

Ray Bladine, the commission's executive director, said everything was done properly.

He acknowledged the commission has spent many hours in closed session but said state law requires that parts of the process of choosing consultants be conducted in private. More to the point, Bladine said the commissioners followed the advice of their attorneys - including, in the early part of the process, an assistant attorney general who works for Horne.

But state Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, said he has proof that laws were broken.

"We have evidence of destruction of government documents subject to public record request, shredding, as a matter of fact," he said. He also said there is evidence of "bid-rigging."

Antenori said he is making what he has available to Horne. He said he was unable to immediately get copies to Capitol Media Services.

Much of that appears grounded in the question of how the two Democrats and one registered independent on the commission used a scoring process to ensure that Strategic Telemetry would get the contract.

Bladine acknowledged that commission members decided not to make public the sheets they used in deciding not to interview three of the seven applicants. It was those sheets, he said, which were not furnished to the Capitol Times.

Since then, Bladine has learned that the two Republican commissioners did, in fact, save their sheets. He said attorneys are examining whether the documents are public, since the discussion about them occurred in executive session.

He said, though, that the sheets used by the commissioners to rate the final four applicants, the ones they did interview, are not only available but posted on the commission's website.

Many of the complaints are rooted in the selection of Colleen Mathis as the commission chair.

By law, elected officials from the two major parties each choose two members. Those four then select a fifth who is supposed to be nonpartisan.

Republicans have argued that Mathis, a Tucson resident, is really biased toward Democratic interests, at least in part because her husband served as treasurer for the failed reelection bid of state Rep. Nancy Young Wright, a fact Mathis did not disclose on her application.

Mathis subsequently voted with the two Democrats to hire Strategic Telemetry; the two Republicans backed National Demographics Corp. which had worked on the prior redistricting in Arizona last decade.

Horne denied that by announcing the probe he was putting the commission, its members and any decisions it eventually reaches under a cloud of suspicion. He said that cloud already exists.

"That's one of the reasons why this investigation's very desirable," he said. "If the cloud is unjustified, it will be very helpful to them and to public confidence in the system that we investigate and let people know if there's nothing there."

Horne denied that his inquiry is partisan or the result solely of complaints from fellow Republicans.

"My impression is, it's more broad-based than that," he said. "I would say the cloud is more than a few ideologically charged people."

He promised to investigate as quickly as possible.

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