Redistricting commission begins potentially rocky process of selecting attorneys

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For now, at least for the time being, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission will use the state procurement process to screen potential legal advisors who would require doing most of their work behind closed doors.

However, the commissioners can later change course and choose a different process that gives the public a full view of their decision-making process.

Ultimately, the decision will likely depend on which applicants the commissioners prefer. AIRC does not need to use the state procurement process to hire a law firm that has already signed a contract with the state through the Arizona Attorney General. The procurement is only required if the commissioners wish to have the opportunity to hire a company that is not already on the attorney general’s list.

Nine law firms have submitted proposals to serve as legal advisors to the commission, seven of which are on the attorney general’s list. At the time when they decided to continue the official procurement process, the commissioners did not yet know who the applicants were.

The reason for this is that they first had to determine what criteria the AIRC will use to evaluate applicants, officials at the Arizona Department of Administration said during the commission’s meeting on Tuesday. This ensures that the criteria are not targeted to a specific applicant and vaccinates the commission against possible allegations of bias in choosing a lawyer if it decides to select its lawyers through procurement.

Republican Commissioner David Mehl and Democratic Commissioner Derrick Watchman expressed frustration at Tuesday’s meeting at not being able to see who the applicants were and were cautious without investigating all nine companies.

“Why are not all applications at least checked since we have received the procurement authority?” Watchman asked.

Chairwoman Erika Neuberg said that the commission could examine all applicants from the procurement process onwards. Reliance on the state’s procurement expertise would also help protect AIRC from potential litigation regarding the choice of lawyer, she said.

Andy Tobin, director of the Arizona Department of Administration, announced earlier this month to the commission that he would give it full procurement powers and the power to choose its own course on such matters. However, Neuberg said it might still be worth being careful.

“Just because we have the authority to source doesn’t mean we are released from our responsibility to comply with government laws and guidelines. The five of us do not have the expertise to do this in a way that we would not enter into potential litigation. The safest and most effective way is to rely on the government procurement office to do this in collaboration with us all the time so that we can all feel together that the process is being carried out according to law and ethics, ”she said.

And if the commission decides to limit its selection to the attorney general’s list and conduct the hiring process publicly, Neuberg reserves the option of abandoning government procurement later.

“I understand that it is not easy, it is not easy. But I don’t see much of a disadvantage to at least starting the RFP process, ”she said. “If we then decide at this point that there is no additional benefit in going through this process with the state, we can regain ownership of the companies that have already been procured.”

Selecting a lawyer is a politically sensitive issue that derailed the previous commission in 2011, long before it actually started drafting legislative and congressional districts.

The first two commissions opted to hire a separate Republican and Democratic lawyer, which would put all four partisan commissioners on their side of the aisle, and the current AIRC has expressed an interest in doing the same. In 2011, AIRC Chairwoman Colleen Mathis and her two Democratic counterparts voted both lawyers 3-2, and the two GOP commissioners were upset that the majority chose a Republican lawyer to speak out against.

Procurement would give commissioners a wider choice of lawyers, but it also has a major disadvantage – most of the work would have to be done in an executive meeting out of the public eye.

Kristina Gomez who acted as deputy manager for the last commission and one Finalist as managing director advised commissioners for the current AIRC to avoid the government procurement agency, a division of ADOA, and instead use their own procurement agency. In her interview with the commission last week, Gomez said the government procurement process required the commission to do too much work in the executive session.

“There comes a point where this process has to be done entirely in an open session and everyone has to see what’s going on,” said Gomez. “I think that triggered the first commission because they tried to follow the guidelines of the government procurement agency. However, this doesn’t go well with this process. This agency is not your typical government agency. It’s completely different. This is an independent body and all eyes are watching you. “

Mathis agreed that the last commission’s confidence in the state procurement process was problematic. She told that Arizona mirror Not only did this require the Commission to spend too much time in the executive session, it also created friction when the Commissioners refused to follow the scoring systems they developed, which they believed happened when selecting lawyers. Under this system, each commissioner is supposed to vote for the candidate with the highest score, and the state procurement office was unhappy when it didn’t.

“In the end, we thought we were going to be doing a great thing with the SPO sourcing process as it was a proven process. But it turns out that really doesn’t work well for the Commission. And I think all five of our commissioners would agree, ”said Mathis mirror during an interview in January. “There were just a lot of limitations to the SPO process that just didn’t work.”

Finally, the state procurement office ended his relationship with the AIRC according to the commission, “often followed a different direction than that offered by SPO.”