One of Arizona’s redistricting commissioners told Attorney General Tom Horne that the commission’s chairwoman destroyed documents used to score mapping firms during a closed-door meeting.
Horne told the Arizona Capitol Times Wednesday that Republican Commissioner Richard Stertz testified about the document destruction during Horne’s ongoing investigation into potential open-meetings and procurement law violations.
“Stertz said the chairwoman (Colleen Mathis) destroyed a set of records,” Horne said. “It was the vote score sheets, where they put down the points.”
Mathis did not respond to a request for comment. Stertz also did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Ray Bladine, the commission’s executive director, said he could not disclose what took place in executive session, but that he feels confident there was no wrongdoing.
“No documents that should have been kept under procurement code were destroyed,” Bladine said.
Previously, the Capitol Times reported that there were apparent gaps in how the commission arrived at awarding a contract to Strategic Telemetry, a mapping firm with ties to Democratic candidates and campaigns.
The documents that appeared to be missing were the score sheets that would have been necessary to pare the pool of potential mapping firms from seven to four in early June. The two Republican commissioners indicated in their final score sheets that there was an initial round of scoring, which was ultimately absent from the procurement file.
The allegations about the document destruction came on the same day that Horne filed a petition in Maricopa County Superior Court to compel Mathis, the independent chairwoman, and the commission’s two Democrats, José Herrera and Linda McNulty, to cooperate with his investigation. The three have so far refused to meet with Horne.
Horne’s petition revealed allegations that Mathis was involved in private conversations in attempt to “line up” votes to hire Strategic Telemetry.
The scope of Horne’s motion, however, was limited to potential violations of state open meetings laws.
If documents were destroyed in executive session, it could lay the groundwork for a distinct investigation into whether the commission also violated state procurement laws or public records laws.
A representative from Horne’s office said the office is not yet ready to pursue such potential violations. Rather, Horne will remain focused on the open meetings law investigation for now.
Making the legal argument that destroying such documents amounts to a violation of procurement laws would hinge on the ability to demonstrate that the commission was actually bound by procurement laws, which is not clear.
The IRC is constitutionally authorized to hire contractors independently, but early in the process the commission chose to use the State Procurement Office to hire contractors. The relationship with the State Procurement Office was, however, terminated on the same day the commission hired their mapping firm.
The claim of document destruction could be pursued also as a violation of public records law. According to Arizona Revised Statute, destruction of public records (A.R.S. 13-2407) is a class 6 felony.
Lisa Hauser, one of the previous IRC attorneys and who unsuccessfully bid for the job again this time around, said no matter how a claim of document destruction plays out, it bodes poorly for the commission as a whole and for the commissioners individually.
“Destruction of records is a serious matter,” said Hauser, a Republican election law attorney. “This is off the charts terrible. On a scale of one-to-ten, this is a 9.8. I can’t imagine having to guide a commission forward that is tainted to this degree.”
Since late June, some Republican lawmakers and members of the public have voiced a desire to see Mathis removed from her post, and Hauser said she expects those conversations to now be reignited. Doing so would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate and a concurring decision by the governor.
If that sort of action is initiated, it could lead to having the entire redistricting process handed over to a panel of federal judges, as was the case for the 1991 redistricting, and which was almost the case in 2001, when the U.S. Department of Justice initially denied the previous IRC’s mapping plans.
“It would most likely mean for 2012, someone else draws the lines,” Hauser said.