Journalists’ Roundtable

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Join us for another edition of the Journalists’ Roundtable, as local reporters recap the big news of the week.

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Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable A new report finds major workplace safety violations in the fighting of the Yarnell Hill fire. The governor forms a task force to oversee CPS investigations. And the latest on the campaign finance case against attorney general Tom Horne. The Journalists' Roundtable is next on "Arizona Horizon."

"Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable. I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Jeremy Duda of "The Arizona Capitol Times," Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services, and Doug MacEachern of "The Arizona Republic." State health and safety officials find a number of workplace violations in the fighting of the deadly Yarnell Hill fire. And this report Jeremy, very different from the report we had heard earlier this year.

Jeremy Duda: Yeah, this really gets to the root of the question people have been asking for months which is really how did this happen? What went wrong? It determines the state forestry division made a number of pretty serious mistakes, poor communication, poor planning, they weren't following proper guidelines on wildfire fighting, you know, they directed people to defend these indefensible structures that put them in the midst of all this really thick growth, put a lot of people in harm's way and they fined them $559,000, most of which is going to go to the families of these 19 firefighters that fell. The rest is punitive fees for making the mistakes.

Howard Fischer: What's fascinating is the 559 sounds interesting but as you point out, if you find some employer guilty of a knowing and willful violation and somebody dies, $25,000 per employee, you take that away, you've got $84,000 in fines for a problem, problems that killed 19 firefighters. And under Arizona law, that's the maximum. I think that left a lot of people shocked.

Ted Simons: And again, it left a lot of people surprised that anyone expecting a white wash, all this kind of -- we got a lot of you should have known this, you could have done that.

Doug MacEachern: They're very straight and, as a matter of fact, they were so clearly going to take the issue head on that the U.S. forest service declined to participate in the issue.

Ted Simons: Why was that?

Doug MacEachern: I believe it had something to do with the fact that it was going to be put on the record and they didn't want to have a public record released with the testimony from their personnel floating out there in the public.

Howard Fischer: And part of what makes it interesting and your initial question touches on this is the forestry division did its own -- I'll use the term loosely investigation which came out earlier this year, which basically said, you know, forces of nature and no command problems, nothing we did, went wrong and the real turn-around about this, that's why the family members were in the audience and say we don't believe that it must have been the fault of the firefighters. That's what concerned me.

Doug MacEachern: The original one was the classic mistakes were made kind of report. This one like we said takes up the issue head on. It does expose some legal liabilities. It does build a lawyer's case in this thing and that I suppose is the down side. I understand that the home-owners are considering a lawsuit and I can't figure out what in the world they would have standing on but maybe they will. But the upside I think is the fact that we have a record to go forward on to try to protect firefighters in the future, to figure out what mistakes really were made and they found some and correct them so they don't happen again.

Howard Fischer: One of them which was interesting is they pointed out that the forestry division is supposed to have a safety officer. This is a person assigned not to figure out how to fight the fire, not to figure out if there were enough resources there. That person's primary focus is the safety of the firefighters looking at the big picture, looking at the weather, looking at the winds, looking at the deployment, and if necessary, pulling people out. The department, the division, had failed to fill the position and that was what led to one of the violations. They said you can't simply ignore that person's function.

Ted Simons: I noticed that one of the complaints, one of the criticisms, one of the findings, the strategies and tactics failed after the fire jumped the lines. In other words, they did not attack this aggressively early enough, thus a home-owner could say if you had done what that report said, maybe the home wouldn't have been damaged.

Doug MacEachern: Well curiously enough when these firefighters died, they were still tactically in attack mode. And that was one of the big criticisms is they shouldn't have been in an aggressive mode with a fire that was that kind of conflagration. They should have been pulled back and--

Howard Fischer: That led to the other piece. Everybody know, according to this report, monsoon season and there was a thunderstorm coming, it was very clear. Now there was an issue of whether the winds didn't come from where they were expected to. You see a thunderstorm coming and knowing the kind of wind, you pull people out and they didn't do that.

Ted Simons: And again, bottom line, commanders knew enough of the conditions according to the report, knew enough of the conditions to promptly remove firefighters. With this information now, what does the legislature do?

Jeremy Duda: It's hard to say. I'm sure there will be a lot of focus on this. We've already people calling for special sessions early in the year just for benefits for the families. Now, people are going to have to start taking a serious look at how this crew operators, how the fire division approaches these situations. I'm sure there's probably already some folks with ideas based on what we've seen.

Doug MacEachern: I think from a little bit higher view, I think that something that the legislature really needs to look at desperately is the issue of remediation, forestry remediation and getting the money, whatever the state sends in front of the fire rather than on the back end as we have been and seeing all this --

Ted Simons: Getting in front of an issue as opposed to reacting once it's a problem, is coming up here shortly when we discuss another topic.

Howard Fischer: You've got two issues in there. Number one in terms of remediation, unless you're going to force home-owners to clear a defensible space around their homes and tell them "Yes,I like being nestled in the pine" well guess what? Pines burn. But I'm not sure I see this legislation doing. The more immediate thing, you talk about the legislature, the governor and her administration have 15 days to decide from the finding whether to appeal. It is not the size of the fine, they burn 559,000 on a good afternoon there. The question is, do they decide to fight it or pay it? We'll know that in less than two weeks.

Ted Simons: You're only going to fight $84,000. Good luck trying to say we don't think the $25,000 should be going to the firefighters.

Howard Fischer: If they fight the $70,000, the $70,000, if you don't have the willful violations, the $25,000 for firefighters goes away.

Ted Simons: But again, good luck trying to convince the masses that that's a good idea. All right, we mentioned getting in front of a problem. Some folks say that the CPS problem wouldn't exist if other things, preventive measures had been taken earlier. We'll get to that conversation later. We have an oversight team over an oversight team, people probing all over the place. What's going on?

Jeremy Duda: The newest layer of investigation on the CPS situation, Governor Brewer put together the care team. The eight person team that's going to investigate all of these -- at least as many as possible of these 6500, child abuse investigations that went uninvestigated over the last few years. They're going to look at how this happened which makes them one of three or so groups taking a look at this and, you know, who knows how much any of those are going to turn up or if there's going to be more.

Howard Fischer: One of the fascinating things that came out of that same press conference is the Governor asked about Mr. Carter as director of DEs, and said he's doing a fine job. But it reminds me of a certain former president who said you're doing a fine job here, brownie. You know, it's hard to know. Look on the one hand I understand the argument that Bill Montgomery makes. You don't fire somebody for bringing something forward. On the other hand, even the Governor admitted during as press conference that this department has not been transparent, has not been forthcoming. This department has been under Clarence Cartner now for almost 3 years. Why isn't some of that his fault?

Jeremy Duda: She said cps, they weren't doing things, there was a break down of communication, they weren't bringing this stuff to the people above them and you have all these people at the legislature and all around the capitol trying to figure out how do we fix the CPS, yet again, which is a pretty annual tradition, there's some talk of taking the division of children, youth and families, the portion that oversees DES, which oversees CPS and making it a separate agency. An idea that has come up here and again.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about that. This is a perpetual story here. We have the DPS investigation, we've got CPS looking at itself, we've got the blue ribbon panel looking at everything they can look at, everyone's going to be reporting, is anything going to change?

Doug MacEachern: Well, this is a problem that every state faces. Every state has a crisis with its own version of CPS. Not all of them are as mind bending as this one. How in the world you can add $80 million to an agency's budget and then suddenly have everything fall apart is beyond me but nevertheless, I think it's going to be a perennial issue, as long as you've got a growing state with parents out there that shouldn't be parents.

Howard Fischer: And the other half of it and Doug has seen this, he's been down there as long as I have is the legislature plays games. We go from preserve the family at all costs, do whatever you have to do. We're not going to find the resources to help the family to then somebody dies, and then it's take the child out, no matter the slighest schools thing, we don't have foster parents so we play this ping-pong game down there, leaving CPS in the middle to try to figure out what the hell to do.

Ted Simons: Where is the paddle in this ping-pong game? Is it more money, got enough money, it sounds like it's get those kids out of there and then figure things out. Law enforcement is taking a heavy hand.

Jeremy Duda: A lot of folks are beating the more money drum right now. The lead legislative leaders, not so keen on that. As Dough mentioned, funding has gone up but if you look at their case loads, the average case load per worker, that's been going up too despite the funding, the funding goes to other things. A lot of reports are on the rise. Even though they have more money, the people are more overworked. It's how you end up with the type of shortcut that led to the 6,500 cases.

Howard Fischer: And I love this. Andy Biggs, the Senate President said well the reason the cases have gone up is we gave them more money and they went out and advertised for people to report child abuse. So therefore, we got more false cases and so this is his argument. So when the president of the State Senate is saying look we gave them more money and they advertised for more cases, we've got a real disconnect here.

Howard Fischer: One other interesting side note, looking for some legislative fixes this session, we have a feature in our paper, this week of history thing, we looked back years ago for this upcoming week's paper and we noticed what was the legislature doing 10 years ago this week? They were in a special session to fix CPS. One of the things they mandated, CPS is required by law to investigate every case.

Ted Simons: Oh, my goodness. It seems to me that there are states out there doing this better, maybe not the best, but better. Just do what they're doing and get it over with.

Howard Fischer: That becomes one of the arguments, we have the three oversights and one of the arguments is why don't we bring somebody in from other states where they are doing it right to say we've tried your model, it doesn't work.

Ted Simons: They're reinventing the wheel down there and the wheel keeps wobbling off the cart. Let's talk about campaign finance now. What's going on with the Tom Horne case? Did something happen today?

Tom Horne and his ally Kathleen Winn, they're challenging the constitutionality of Arizona's contribution limits in 2010, which is where this whole case stems from and this is separate but related to the actual campaign finance case against them. They're saying these limits are unconstitutionally low and therefore, we shouldn't be prosecuted under the statute because it's unconstitutional so if the limits are unconstitutional then we didn't actually do anything wrong, see you guys later.

Howard Fischer: That goes to the issue that if you remember Kathleen Winn ran a half-million dollar ad after Tom started sliding in the polls. The Yavapai County attorney said based on the information she had gone from the FBI well she was on the phone with Tom while she was e-mailing the campaign consultant and there seems to be coordination. What happened is and the reason the campaign limits become an issue, she can do independent campaigning but if he was directing it, it's not her money, it's his money. He can't take half a million dollars or large amounts, the $100,000 coming in from individual donors. He was in violation of the $840 limit. If the $840 limit is unconstitutionally too low, to wage an effective campaign, then that goes away, so do the charges.

Jeremy Duda: So what's also going away today is their lawsuit against the contribution limits. They filed it earlier in the year and the judge threw it out and said at the time they weren't actually facing any charges. After Maricopa County attorney's office was booted off the case, Sheila Polk and still trying to figure out what to do with it and you don't have to face the charges, it's moot. Now that the charges have been filed by Sheila Polk, they came back and said well, we should be able to bring this forward now, and the judge said that may be true but you still have to go through the court case. You can win that so we're going to let that go through first and get rid of this contribution limits challenge.

Doug MacEachern: But politically it's a crate case to bring up, and I think the judge even indicated that somewhere down the line that it's going to come into lay, it doesn't have any bearing on the case as it exists now. The interesting thing about Polk review of the collusion is, in fact, remember at the time she was also -- Winn was also his realtor and he was actually in the process of doing a big real estate deal at the time.

Ted Simons: Haven't those records been looked at and there was a little bit of a lopsided --

Howard Fischer: Well, that's the contention of Sheila Polk. Fact is when I talked to the deputy Yavapai County attorney. When Montgomery was prosecuting and he was doing it based on look how many contacts there were, we're going to focus on a few specific incidents, and we're going to show that there is no other reasonable explanation. Now, the problem is we've got the e-mails. There's nobody taping the phone. So what was occurring on the phone? Who knows, you know.

Ted Simons: The timing of the calls.

Howard Fischer: It's the timing, it's the duration, and the questions, including the fact that they contacted one of Horne's relatives to get some of the money. It raises questions.

Doug MacEachern: And they very well may come up with that. The interesting thing to keep in mind in all of this, however, is that every single player, every single candidate practically anymore has got a curious understanding with an independent campaign group that does campaigning, does all the negative stuff on your behalf which allows all these candidates to be clean as the driven snow.

Howard Fischer: Here's what gets even more interesting. The laws about coordination do not prohibit the candidate from coordinating with the committee in terms of is raising money. Tom Horne is very free to tell somebody who's maxed out to give over here. The law deals with the expenditures side. Now, you're really getting in the weeds here and the issue of what can you know and when can you know it and what is coordination, you know, this is going to be a fascinating case.

Jeremy Duda: You mentioned that the real estate deal, they say this is why we have so many phone calls, this is why we caught all these e-mails, the problem is that Horne and Winn have a lot of explanations for why they made these calls, why there were so many calls, Winn has an explanation for why she was making certain references in e-mails to her consultant about how we wanted changes or that. As you take those individually, they can explain them away. But there's a very low evidentiary standard they will face when they go to court. There's a 51% chance that they did this. You add all these things together, the judge looks and says this adds up to 51% or more than that.

Howard Fischer: I want to go one step further, maybe make my first early prediction for the year. I think that Horne recognizes that having this thing drag on through the administrative law hearing in February and appeal after that, and into the primary is not good. I think somehow this is going to settle out. He's going to reach some sort of plea deal to settle the case and it will not go all the way to court.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, bold and we will get to that year end show coming up here as the year ends. But before we end this particular program, we've got to talk about what seems to be an interest in Terry Goddard on running for --

Howard Fischer: Anything N. anything! Love me, it's like Sally fields, you really love me! Terry has been nosing around out there for something to run for. Fred DuVal looked at attorney general, a job he's had. Well, if he would have tried to elbow Felicia out of the way, she would hurt him. What does that leave in terms of high profile. He doesn't want to be on the corporation commission. That's the secretary of state's job.

Ted Simons: He doesn't want to be on the corporation commission but some heavy hitters would like to see him on the corporation commission.

Jeremy Duda: Jim Peterson, big democratic party financier, he's been pushing Goddard to run, as well as a lot of expertise in these issues, got a name that could actually win this, which is a tough race for democrats to win. Nobody knows who these people are, they vote for the "R" and "D." That could also play well for the democrats in the Secretary of State race, which is the same thing. And usually the democrats are at a disadvantage because there's more Republicans than Democrats. People are saying Terry Goddard, secretary of state race.

Ted Simons: Could he win that general election?

Jeremy Duda: I think he potentially could win. I think it would be an uphill climb.

Howard Fischer: You've got the potentially bloody Republican primary out there and Terry Watson and people say secretary of state, what's the harm that that could do which is why the Republicans for decades now have been trying to rename it Lieutenant Governor and yes, that's a race that the democrats could win.

Ted Simons: It's also an office that may get terry Goddard closer to governor.

Howard Fischer: Yeah.

Doug MacEachern: It may, but they could use him more on the corporation commission I think. I think it's never good to have all one party in that.

Howard Fischer: Have you watched how the Republicans have been getting along on the corporation commission?

Ted Simons: All right we'll stop it right there. Thank you, so much.

Ted Simons: Monday on "Arizona Horizon," members of the latest CPS oversight team discuss their goals in examining child protective services. And travel writer Roger Naylor talks about his latest work, "Death Valley Hottest Place On Earth." Those stories Monday on "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you, so much for joining us. You have a great weekend

Jeremy Duda:Arizona Capitol Times; Howard Fischer:Capitol Media Services; Doug MacEachern:The Arizona Republic;

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