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Legislature rejects Ducey’s call for inspector general

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State lawmakers wrapped up the 2015 session early Friday — but not before refusing to approve one of the pet projects of Gov. Doug Ducey, a defeat gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato blamed on “special interests and lobbyists doing shady business with the state.”

But he would not name names.

Ducey had asked for authority to unilaterally appoint an inspector general who would have a badge, police powers and the ability to subpoena people to testify and produce documents. And if someone did not comply, the legislation provided the inspector general to go to court to enforce the subpoenas.

But the idea had a hard time gaining traction, even among a Legislature controlled by Ducey’s Republican Party.

Senate President Andy Biggs said there is nothing wrong with the premise.

“Not just Republicans, but Democrats, too, we want to eliminate fraud, waste and corruption in government agencies,” he said. The problem for many lawmakers, said Biggs, is the inspector general – and employees he or she would be able to hire – would have “too broad powers for their taste.”

“They wanted to say, ‘Let’s maybe narrow it down a little bit,’“ Biggs said.

Scarpinato said offers were made to do just that, including requiring Senate confirmation of Ducey’s pick, an annual appearance before a joint legislative committee and “a lot of disclosure elements.”

But Biggs said concerns remained.

“You’ve got to be very careful with who gets subpoena powers, very careful with designation of law enforcement agencies, and where those reside,” he said.

Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, expressed similar concerns.

A defense contractor, Stevens said he has worked with offices of inspectors general in that arena. But he said what Ducey finally unveiled in mid-March was far different than that concept.

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, had her own cocnerns.

“This new position keeps secret any records prepared or obtained by the inspector general as part of an investigation,” she said, and would make the records “available only to the governor.”

And then there were the objections of Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who called the office unnecessary.

“Arizona already has an independent law enforcement agency to investigate fraud and criminal activity,” Brnovich said in a statement about the legislation. “It’s the Attorney General’s Office.”

Scarpinato, however, insisted the legislation was buried not by legislative concerns but by those who did not want an independent investigator poking around.

“This was a lobbyist’s worst nightmare,” he said. “Clearly, the special interests came out to try to stop this.”

Which lobbyists and special interests?

“I’m not going to get into that tonight,” Scarpinato said.

“We believe that people who are doing business with the state, that the state has a responsibility to make sure that they’re not taking advantage of the taxpayers,” he said. “And that was a large part of what this was about.”

Biggs said one of the problems for lawmakers was being asked to create not just an inspector general, but an entirely new state agency from scratch without being given time or sufficient details.

Ducey had first suggested the concept in his State of the State speech in January.

“This public advocate would be equipped with a badge and subpoena power to go in, ask the tough questions and be a watchdog for the taxpayers,” the new governor said at the time. But it was not until less than three weeks ago that Ted Vogt, the governor’s chief of operations, presented the details to a Senate committee.

Biggs suggested that rush played a role in the discomfort of lawmakers in giving the go-ahead. He said lawmakers believe if they are going to set up such an agency with broad powers, they wanted to “get it right.”

Scarpinato declined to say what Ducey plans to do next or whether the governor believes he has the power to name someone to that kind of post without legislative authority.

“We’re going to look at any way we can to try to protect the taxpayer,” he said

3 comments

  1. If the AG’s office was doing its job then this new office would not be needed. It all boils down to integrity. This new office would be great if the people staffing it had integrity — just like the AG’s office would be great if there was integrity. I have had direct experience with both the AG’s office and the Citizens Ombudsman office. Both are are useless. One is lucky to get a phone call or email returned. Would this new office be any different? Again, it depends on integrity.

  2. This is an outstanding idea that will pay for itself in 1 year; I hope the governor doesn’t give up on it.

  3. “This public advocate would be equipped with a badge and subpoena power to go in, ask the tough questions and be a watchdog for the taxpayers,” With the exception of a badge and subpoena power, isn’t that what the legislature is supposed to be doing for us? Aren’t THEY supposed to be asking the tough questions? Aren’t THEY supposed to be a watchdog for taxpayers? Why add another layer of bureaucracy to what is already an ineffective and inefficient state government? If schools are expected to do more with less, maybe it’s time that our state legislature and our Governor try the same dose of medicine.

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