During a closed-door executive session last week, Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission selected the final two candidates vying to serve as the agency’s executive director.
The commission interviewed five candidates, selected from among several dozen, for several hours during the private April 14 meeting, then chose two of the five for additional interviews April 20 – this time in public.
After the public interviews on April 20, the commission will likely go into an executive session where it could make the final selection for who will be the executive director, said James Barton, the assistant attorney general who has been appointed to serve as the commission’s interim legal counsel.
But even if the commission makes a selection, commissioners have said it’s not certain whether the name will be released to the public at that time. The Arizona Department of Administration, which is assisting the IRC in procuring its staff, may have to complete a background and reference check before the executive director’s name can be released, said Scott Freeman, a Republican IRC commissioner from Maricopa County.
Although the commission appears close to choosing the executive director, some commissioners have expressed frustration at the pace at which the group is hiring staff.
Colleen Mathis, the independent IRC chairwoman, said the commissioners feel a sense of urgency about making the selection. She also said she’s trying to lead the commission toward swift action, given that they must still hire permanent attorneys, support staff and mapping consultants before they can focus entirely on the task of drafting the new political maps.
Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne has previously told the commission that she will need to have a working set of maps by Oct. 1, in order to prepare for the 2012 election season.
During the April 14 meeting, commissioners Freeman and Richard Stertz, a Republican from Pima County, voiced concerns about getting the commission’s staff completely hired with enough time to satisfactorily draw and evaluate maps before the Oct. 1 deadline.
Freeman pointed out that the last IRC had their legal counsel selected by late March 2001. “That suggests to me,” he said, “that we are missing something… Clearly they did not go through the steps we are going through.”
Stertz said following the procedures outlined by ADOA could result in not having attorneys hired until mid-June, which he said would put the commission into a time crunch moving forward. He suggested the commission revisit the authority it has to dispense with some of ADOA’s normal procurement procedures.
Mathis, the chairwoman, said she would look into the commission’s authority to expedite the staff procurement process.
Here’s a brief rundown of the two final candidates being considered for the executive director position.
Bladine, who had applied for the IRC’s chair position, has several years of executive government consulting experience, mostly with the city of Phoenix.
Before becoming a consultant in 1999, he worked for Phoenix as deputy city manager, director of urban development and housing and in other city management positions since 1969.
Bladine said he spoke with IRC chairwoman Colleen Mathis before applying for the executive director position, and that she encouraged him to do so.
“I didn’t want to step on any toes,” Bladine said. “If I had heard any hesitation on her part, I wouldn’t have applied. But I got no hesitation from her.”
Gonsher has worked as a director and manager for several state agencies, including the Arizona Department of Racing, the Arizona Lottery and the Corporation Commission.
He was appointed to those senior state management positions by governors Janet Napolitano, Jane Hull, Fife Symington and Rose Mofford.
Gonsher said in a phone interview that he was unwilling to discuss any of the answers he might provide to the IRC during his interview, except to add clarity to his work experience.
Gonsher said he doesn’t believe his party affiliation matters, and that he would only offer it if asked by the commissioners.
Gonsher said he’s also not spoken with or met any of the commissioners.
According to his application, he is also an Arizona Senior Olympics medalist and has won comedy writing awards from the LA Comedy Writers Convention.
The following individuals were also interviewed during the April 14 meeting, but were not selected to come back for an additional interview:
Gomez was a staffer for the last IRC and currently works for First Things First, dealing mostly in data analysis and reporting.
Gomez’ application touts her contribution to the last IRC, noting the development of a citizen input database, the handling incoming public comments and dispersion of citizen information kits and the organization and preparation of the IRC’s financial records.
Gomez did not return several calls requesting comment.
Luhan, who lives in Colorado and works for the city and county of Denver, is an information technology strategist, focusing on geographic information systems (GIS).
Luhan also worked on Colorado’s redistricting in 2000, which he said had created fair, competitive districts, in accordance with the Colorado Constitution.
Luhan said he’s studied up on the IRC, Prop. 106 and the constitutional requirements that are spelled out for the commission, and that he feels that his combination of government management work and IT management experience sets him apart from candidates.
Luhan declined to answer what his party affiliation is, saying instead, “It doesn’t matter. It has no influence on my job, and you’ll see, when I get the position, that everything will be open and transparent, and the process will be repeatable and defendable.”
Cisneros owns Arias Associates, which provides equal educational opportunity auditing and compliance consulting for school districts in the Southwest.
In 2002, Cisneros was appointed by Gov. Janet Napolitano to serve as executive director of the Governor’s Office of Equal Opportunity. He was in that position until 2010.
In 2010, he served as treasurer for the Protect Arizona Freedom ballot initiative committee, which unsuccessfully fought the affirmative-action banning Prop. 107. From 2000 to 2002, he was the chairman of the Maricopa County Democratic Party, though his application appears to have minimized his political background, as it lists the position simply as “chairman, Maricopa County Political Party.”
He also worked in management positions with the cities of San Luis and Somerton.
Cisneros did not respond to calls for comment.