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Judge to mull whether to end redistricting probe

In this Nov. 1 photo, Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, rails against the ousting of IRC chairwoman Colleen Mathis. (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

A judge will consider Wednesday whether to end or revitalize a civil investigation into whether Arizona’s redistricting commission violated open meetings law when it selected consultants to help draw new congressional and legislative districts.

County attorneys leading the investigation are asking that the recently ousted chair of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission and two other commissioners be ordered to cooperate. The probe is examining allegations that the three had secret one-on-one talks about selecting mapping consultants.

The commission contends it’s subject to only a constitutional requirement that its business be “open to the public” and that the open meetings law doesn’t apply to it.

The commission’s 3-2 vote in late June to pick the mapping firm, Strategic Telemetry, prompted criticism from Republican politicians and tea party activists that the new political boundaries could be slanted to favor Democrats. Strategic Telemetry has done work for Democratic candidates, including President Barack Obama.

The three commissioners who voted to hire Strategic Telemetry have said the firm was the best qualified of four finalists and that the commission — not its consultants — will decide how to draw the maps. The two Republican commissioners wanted to pick a California firm that worked for the last commission.

Both Republicans have provided attorneys leading the investigation with interviews but the other three have refused.

The Arizona Attorney General’s office had sued the three commission members to require their cooperation. The commission, in return, sued the attorney general alleging that he didn’t have the authority to investigate.

In late October, a judge removed Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne from the investigation, ruling Horne’s office couldn’t investigate the commission for possible open meetings law violations because it had advised commissioners on that same subject before the panel hired its own attorneys. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office is now handling the investigation.

The commission is asking Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Dean Fink to declare the open meetings law doesn’t apply to the commission.

County attorneys argue that the law requires all public bodies, including the commission, to meet in public and that the state Constitution doesn’t exempt the panel from the open meetings law.

Before being removed by Gov. Jan Brewer as the commission’s chair on Nov. 1, Mathis told Brewer in a letter that she urged other commissioners to forge a consensus on selecting a mapping firm.

Mathis denied lobbying fellow commissioners to pick Strategic Telemetry, but the two Republican commissioners said Mathis sought a 5-0 vote for Strategic Telemetry

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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