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IRC to meet on budget, attorney, consultant contracts

Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commissioners (from left to right) Democrat Linda McNulty, independent chairwoman Colleen Mathis, Democrat José Herrera, Republican Scott Freeman and Republican Richard Stertz. (Photos by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission will meet for the first time in five months to discuss contract extensions for its attorneys, consultant and staff as it prepares to fight three lawsuits pending against it in state and federal court.

The Friday meeting will also include discussion of the commission’s budget for the fiscal years 2013 and 2014, an audit of IRC finances requested by the Legislature and an update on the lawsuits. The meeting will be at 1:30 p.m. at the Evans House, 1100 W. Washington St.

IRC Executive Director Ray Bladine said the commission’s contracts with attorneys Joe Kanefield and Mary O’Grady, which expired in May, must be extended due to ongoing litigation. The IRC’s contract with mapping consultant Strategic Telemetry must also be extend because the firm is assisting with the lawsuits and will be needed if either state or federal courts force the commission to redraw its congressional or legislative maps.

“They are really an integral part of the defense of the maps and the lawsuits. And it’s the same thing NDC (National Demographics Corporation, the mapping firm hired by the last IRC) did last time. They had a role in providing and analyzing data that answered some of the legal questions concerning the maps. In essence, it’s for the most part right now to do support of legal,” Bladine said.

The commission’s staff is recommending a pay increase for the IRC’s attorneys, who say they are working below their standard hourly rates. Ballard Spahr, Kanefield’s firm, said it normally charges $360 per hour for partners, but has only charged the IRC $300 an hour. O’Grady’s firm, Osborn Maledon, has been charging the IRC $280 an hour for partners, which the firm said is 11 percent below its normal rates.

Bladine said it makes sense for both firms to be paid under the same rate, and he is recommending hourly rates of $325. He said the increase reflects recent rate hikes implemented by the two firms.

The IRC staff recommended two possible salary extensions for Strategic Telemetry – a $25,000 monthly flat fee or a $10,000-a-month contract with additional hourly rates for any work past 40 hours per month. Strategic Telemetry’s original contract was for $600,000, though the IRC paid the firm about $137,000 more to cover additional pass-through costs.

The commission will discuss its current budget situation, as well as recommendations due soon to Gov. Jan Brewer for its fiscal year 2014 budget. In a letter to IRC Chairwoman Colleen Mathis, Bladine said he expects the commission to have an FY12 deficit of nearly $51,000 once it pays for remaining expenditures from the fiscal year. The deficit will be paid out of the IRC’s $1.45 million for FY13.

Bladine is recommending that the IRC essentially maintain its current staffing levels. The commission has three full-time staffers and two part-time staffers, down from its height of 10 full-time employees.

Under the proposed staffing plan, Bladine plans to move from full-time to part-time status, and another employee will also see a gradual reduction in hours as well. Deputy Executive Director Kristina Gomez will take on some of Bladine’s responsibilities, and he is recommending an increase in Gomez’ $72,000-a-year salary.

In a memo to the five commissioners, Bladine said the IRC’s staffing needs may change depending on the three lawsuits.

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