The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission has less than six months to redraw the state’s political divisions, but for the next several weeks, they’ll be mired in the administrative work necessary to facilitate their lofty task.
At the commission’s March 24 meeting, the group took up the issues of hiring an executive director, legal counsel and mapping consultants, as well as where the group’s headquarters will be located. Although there was a lot of discussion, none of those items were settled.
The Arizona Department of Administration has been assisting the group to hire all the support staff they need, and in order to comply with the state’s rigorous hiring protocols, it could be late May or early June before the group even begins to look at maps, an ADOA official said.
“The clock is ticking,” said IRC Chair Collen Mathis. “And I hear it.”
Mathis said hiring the support staff and choosing the IRC headquarters is all she is able to focus on for now, despite being keenly aware of how fast the commission will need to work in order to deliver district maps to state and county election officials by early October.
The group discussed whether it should seek legal counsel other than the attorneys provided by the state Attorney General’s office, and seemed to lean toward hiring outside attorneys, due to the possible perception of a partisan bias that could result from having attorneys who work for an elected official advise the commission. A final decision on whether to use the AG’s appointed attorneys or seek outside counsel will likely be made at the panel’s March 31 meeting.
On the issue of selecting a location for its offices, the commission had a list of nine possible spaces – five in Phoenix, three in Tucson and one in Scottsdale – but all the commissioners fawned over one: the historic J.M. Evans House, located at 1100 W. Washington, near the state Capitol. The building is a Queen Anne cottage that features a distinctive onion dome, and is located across the street from the Carnegie Center, a multi-use auditorium that could serve as a public meeting location.
Mathis and Pima County Democratic Commissioner Linda McNulty both said they liked the look and style of the J.M. Evan’s House, and would like to see that be the commission’s office, as long as they could verify that it has air conditioning.
Mathis said she’s not sure exactly what steps the group will take once the support staff is hired and a headquarters is selected.
“I don’t have a real big battle plan outlined after that,” Mathis said. “Once we have legal counsel and mapping consultants in place, they’ll advise us on the next steps and milestones.”
Former IRC executive director Adolfo Echeveste said he wasn’t worried about the pace the commission is moving along at, but suggested that they should begin thinking about their public meeting schedule as quickly as possible.
“The outreach planning is what’s next,” Echeveste said. “They need to focus on their public hearings… and how extensive they want their outreach to be.”
Echeveste pointed out that the last IRC held about 60 public meetings across the state. That sort of outreach took a lot of planning, he said, but the current IRC might be able to substitute in-person public hearings with video-conferenced hearings, which weren’t possible ten years ago.
“With the improvements in telecommunications, I don’t think they would need to travel around the state as much,” Echeveste said.
Former IRC attorney Lisa Hauser also said she has no doubt the commission will have sufficient time to work on the redrawing district maps, but doubted the ADOA’s estimation for how long it should take to make the support staff hires. Hauser said the eight-to-ten week hiring and request for proposal period the ADOA outlined sounded far more protracted than necessary. Hauser said she thinks the process could be wrapped up in between two and four weeks.
The group will meet again on March 31 at 9:30 a.m., and is having ADOA officials look into meeting at the Carnegie Center.