Arizona’s attorney general on Wednesday accused three members of the state’s redistricting commission of stonewalling an investigation of possible open meeting law violations that he said reportedly include private one-on-one talks between the chairwoman and other members before a key vote.
Attorney General Tom Horne filed a petition in Maricopa County Superior Court, asking for an order to compel commission Chairwoman Colleen Mathis and the commission’s two Democratic members, Jose Herrera and Linda McNulty, to cooperate with his office’s investigation.
The court scheduled an Oct. 3 hearing on Horne’s attempt to force the commissioners to provide testimony and documents.
Click here to see Horne’s exhibits.
Mathis, the commission’s sole registered independent, has been the subject of controversy since she sided with the two Democrats on a 3-2 vote on June 29 to hire a Washington-based firm with Democratic leanings as the commission’s mapping consultant.
Republican politicians and tea party activists have said the selection of Strategic Telemetry calls into question whether new congressional and legislative districts will be drawn to favor Democrats.
The petition said Republican Commissioners Richard Stertz and Scott Freeman have cooperated with Horne’s investigation, saying during separate interviews that Mathis called them separately before the June 29 meeting to ask each to be part of a 5-0 vote for Strategic Telemetry.
Both Stertz and Freeman favored a rival firm that worked for the last redistricting commission.
Evidence “points to a decision reached through private coordination of effort, out of view and hearing of the public,” Horne’s petition said. “Such private, coordinated effort is wrong and constitutes an open meeting law violation.”
The Attorney General’s Office contends that serial conversations — talks involving individuals who together would constitute a quorum of a public body — violate the open meeting law if on a topic potentially facing the body for a decision
Mathis, McNulty and Herrera did not immediately respond to requests for comment submitted through a commission spokesman, Stuart Robinson.
The commission’s lawyers expressed disappointment that Horne “has chosen to sue rather than work with the commission to address his concern.” Contrary to Horne’s allegations, the commissioners “are committed to conduct the commission’s business in public,” the panel’s lawyers said in a statement.
The commission’s attorneys previously objected to the most of Horne’s demands for testimony and records.
The commission lawyers’ said in an Aug. 29 letter that the office’s enforcement power under the open meeting law doesn’t extend to the commission, there isn’t reasonable cause for the investigation and Horne’s office has a conflict of interest because it provided legal advice to the commission before it hired its own lawyers.
The three commissioners who favored hiring Strategic Telemetry have said it was the best qualified among the applicants, and Herrera and other Democrats have accused Horne, a Republican, of harassing the commission.
State Democratic Party Chairman Andrei Cherny on Wednesday called Horne’s filing “yet another example of partisan interference with the independence” of the commission.
Horne denied during an interview that he was harassing the commission, and his petition said it was important that the commission’s work be done in the open.
“The work of the commission may materially affect the political landscape of this state for the next decade. The public must have confidence in its work,” the petition stated.
The five-member commission was created under a 2000 ballot measure that took redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature.
The first such commission drew districts used in elections during the past decade.
Four of the commissioners are appointed by elected officials, and those four appointees then choose the fifth, an independent who serves as chairman.