Journalists’ Roundtable

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Three local journalists will discuss the week’s big stories.

Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable, the governor's plan to create a new inspector general position to root out fraud and corruption in state agencies has the attorney questioning the need, noting that his office already performs those duties. 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 us tonight Mary Jo Pitzl of "The Arizona Republic." Jeremy Duda of "The Arizona Capitol Times." And Steve Goldstein of KJZZ Radio. Governor Ducey's push for a new inspector general position is moving through the legislature. Let's get to basics. What is this?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I'm not sure. Back in January in his state of the state address, Governor Ducey said he wanted a state inspector general to look for examples of waste, fraud and abuse in state government. We've had two months of silence and then boom, on Wednesday, a bill gets heard in the committee, and it's moving through quickly.

Ted Simons: Why so late the boom? If he had two months for this, why wasn't this vetted, why didn't we hear some testimony? What's going on here?

Jeremy Duda: They've been working on this since then but the late introduction of that didn't sit well with some folks. If this had introduced earlier in the year the way a normal piece of legislation would have, a lot of vetting, to work out some of the kinks and this came so late we didn't have any of that.

Ted Simons: So has it come so late that it's got some problems or sail on through like everything else?

Jeremy Duda: It looks like so far it's sailing on through. We have a lot of kumbaya between our new governor and legislative Republicans, everyone's pretty much everything he's asked for he's getting so far. We saw a lot of support from Republicans in the committee hearing the other day, it passed on a party line vote. It seemed like this won't have many problems getting through.

Steve Goldstein: Speaking of the old problem, it does feel like the old solution in search for a problem. We've heard from governors before, there's always this efficiency is used instead, we're going to slice government down and it sounds like that, it sounds like Governor Ducey went along with us on the budgets, we'll go along with him on this and there won't be complications. Except there are.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Some of those complications are how much will this information be made public? If they're going to go in state agencies, how are we going to know what the end product is? And that is a work in progress. They'll entertain some motions, they'll have some motions on the floor when it comes up for a full debate but there's still going to be a amount of privacy and this is an inspector general who's going to be armed with subpoena power and a badge.

Ted Simons: Yes, indeed and reports directly to the governor.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Back in January when he first talked about this, among myriad other things, some people were saying well why do we need this? We have the state attorney general, we'll get to that in a minute. We have the auditor general, they're looking for waste and efficiencies in government. You also have a state ombudsman and different agencies have their own inspector general.

Ted Simons: Why does the state need this?

Jeremy Duda: This is someone who would answer directly to him and the auditor general is more to the legislature. This is something that's completely within the executive department, strictly to him and a lot of the criticism like you mentioned, private police, I get the feeling this is more of waste and inefficiency and shrinking government and all the stuff that really is consistent with the message we've been hearing from Ducey since the second he got into the governor's race. It would still have the power to look for criminal wrongdoing, corruption and that stuff, referred to another law enforcement agency.

Steve Goldstein: What better way to shrink government than to hire someone else to help shrink government? Makes a lot of sense.

Ted Simons: Critics are pointing that out. If you're trying to shrink government why are we having a new position when the attorney general is saying we already do this.

Steve Goldstein: Well, I think it parallels about various laws, which is why do we need these new laws? If the other ones were enforced better, it falls under that umbrella to me.

Ted Simons: The attorney general's office did come out and said we already do this.

Mary Jo Pitzl: They did not say that to the legislative committee. So

Ted Simons: Why not?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I don't know. Maybe it's still the honeymoon period, maybe you don't want to roil the waters. This is already happening, and just think, it was two weeks ago, that his office announced the prosecution of an employee at the department of environmental quality for embezzling state money.

Jeremy Duda: I think for Governor Ducey and attorney general Brnovich, they looked pretty strong, and then issues with the budget and obviously, not happy about this. I don't think the governor's office really worked with them much or talked with them much about what they were doing before they did it but the governor's office insists this is a much broader range of responsibilities than the A.G. does. The A.G. is a law enforcement agency, but the inspector general is going to be looking for where can we save money here? I don't know if that's going to assuage concerns because it is a rival law enforcement agency. I'm sure this was not the intention,
Steve Goldstein: I'm not making a direct apple to apple comparison, maybe it's apple to persimmon but it's interesting, it came up Ducey was not going to be like his predecessor, he was not going to be in courtrooms, that was up to the attorney general and that was throwing the attorney general a bone, and now, maybe that bone was thrown with a string attached to it.

Ted Simons: The state of the state address, he said the state needs an unbiased attorney general. That's a little bit of a shot there. Inspector general. A little bit of a shot don't you think?

Jeremy Duda: One of the requirements for inspector general is they have not held a quote political party office for the past two years, they're going to amend that to include any elected office, which also shoots down the rumor that I think some of the Democrats are throwing around that incoming and outgoing directors would get that.

Ted Simons: Where did that rumor come from and why is he coming in? Andy tobin we hardly knew ye.

Jeremy Duda: The rumor coming from Democrats, he was made the weights and measures director, one of his only official acts as director is going to be to help dismantle the agency, another late introduced bill from the Ducey administration where they're going to dismantle the weights and measures department, carve up all its duties among a few other agencies.

Ted Simons: Do we know anything more about this?

Mary Jo Pitzl: That's one big, long bill and, you know, I defy you to find a lawmaker who's read all 82 pages and can tell you who's going to weigh my box of Valentine's Day candy and they check gasoline to see if it's being dispensed in the proper amounts.

Ted Simons: I seem to remember that was a big thing with governor meekin.

Jeremy Duda: That will go over to the department of environmental quality, to help services, another interesting thing where they didn't talk to a lot of the stakeholders, a lot of the people who would directly affected by this, business groups stood up and said no one ever told us this was coming, this is going to really affect us.

Ted Simons: Tobin, any future? Is he opening himself up to another congressional run?

Jeremy Duda: I think he is looking at potentially making another run for a congressional district next year which will be greatly aided if they can redraw the lines and make cd1 a little more favorable for Republicans than it is right now.

Mary Jo Pitzl: We have some other state agency directorships that remain unfilled, maybe they're going to be shut down but with the department of administration, the department of revenues, those are two higher profile agencies that have yet to get a director. I don't know if tobin is in the running for that.

Steve Goldstein: And one other quick thing because it's all about the money, Governor Ducey was so brilliant on the campaign talking with people at the grassroots level and big donors and using his own money, maybe if tobin falls on his sword, maybe Ducey can raise more funds.

Ted Simons: All right. Sounds reasonable. We are still waiting to hear about the charter school loan details. This is a $24 million deal, where the state backs private loans by private charter schools. And it seems controversial and the details are supposed to be coming. Do we have them yet?

Jeremy Duda: Not yet. Soon, a few weeks maybe they tell me. This was one of the biggest initiatives that Ducey announced in his state of the state, the Arizona public school achievement district, part of this fund where public schools can, you know, use to borrow, which will help charter schools which can't get the same favorable rates as district schools. They put this $24 million fund that basically schools can borrow from, more legislation will get to the plan. Turns out the ninth floor says we don't need any more legislation, this is it. They'll have to submit the details of this plan to the joint legislative budget committee and eventually will need some cleanup legislation but probably not until next year.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I don't know what exactly a charter school would submit to the glbc. Presumably there will be a form that will be developed.

Jeremy Duda: The governor's office has to submit the details.

Ted Simons: Again, this is $24 million of backed loans by privately owned charters, allowed them to get the lower rates, and this is supposed to be part of the elimination of those waiting lists that we keep hearing about, along with finding vacant buildings and schools and rooms and things, correct?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Right, there's a problem perhaps with the state being the assurer of these loans. There is a thing called the gift clause in Arizona's Constitution, and Senate president Andy biggs who has a keen antenna says he's a little uncomfortable with this provision. You're going to have to wait and see. I suspect that jim hogan who also has a very keen antenna is also waiting for more details to see if this is something that runs afoul of the Constitution.

Ted Simons: How does it not if these are privately owned charters and the state is backing the loans?

Jeremy Duda: We're going to have to wait for the details to come out is what the governor's office tells me. That's something still working out. Maybe they haven't figured it out. Maybe they've run into problems trying to work out the details and that's why we haven't seen the plan yet.

Ted Simons: We had a whistle blower letter regarding the head of dcs. I know this letter seems like it's been kept secret. This is the whistle blower. Talk to us, just give us a general idea of what the story is about and the fact that this letter is still not out there.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, there's a lot we don't know for details but what has come out is the general council for the department of child safety. We believe filed a whistle blower complaint against director McKay after he had been appointed director, over what? I don't know, that's why you want the complaint is to see what's the problem here. And this staffer has been on leave since that time, public records request, Jeremy speaks to this better.

Jeremy Duda: We've put in a request for this and they denied it and said this is attorney client privilege. The person who filed it is an attorney. This went to Governor Ducey of general council so therefore, attorney client privilege. They don't have to release it, they say.

Ted Simons: The idea is that the public right to know is outweighed by a robust interest in maintaining confidentiality. A robust interest in maintaining confidentiality.

Jeremy Duda: Very robust. [ Laughter ] And, of course, part of the argument is folks are going to be more hesitant to file these complaints if they're going to be public.

Mary Jo Pitzl: My organization as well got a similar response from the ninth floor and, you know, the head scratcher is that well, you know, the dcs general council is not the attorney for the governor's office. She's the attorney for the department of child safety. So could this be because, you know, if you're going to blow the whistle on your boss, maybe you don't send it to him, the next rung up the ladder and perhaps that's where the governor's office gets involved.

Steve Goldstein: And to jump on her head scratching situation, what about the fact that they eliminated the internal investigation unit.

Ted Simons: That was after it was investigating Mr. McKay, was it not?

Steve Goldstein: The timing is iffy.

Ted Simons: He said he wanted to free up those resources to use those resources in other areas. But the idea of this being kept secret, the idea of the last-minute this and keeping quiet that and you keep the investigations, is transparency becoming something to watch out for with this administration?

Jeremy Duda: This is certainly not very transparent. We've seen some things where like initially they got rid of the visitor logs, they put them back. Other areas more transparency from the Ducey administration in terms of some records that maybe the brewer administration didn't turn over. On the big things, stuff like this, this is maybe kind of an issue.

Steve Goldstein: Not to be too philosophical but wolves things the public would struggle with and not folks who watch "Arizona Horizon," but how do you get enough people to raise enough of a clamor so that if, in fact, there is concern about transparency, at the legislative level, how do you get enough people to care about it? How do you get people motivated enough for a governor's office to feel pressure?

Jeremy Duda: The legislative Democrats, especially those in the Senate committee who had to approve the nomination and none of them took the opportunity to ask about this whistle blower. None of them even voted against director the confirmation, despite that Charles Flanagan got replaced.

Ted Simons: Where was the hue and cry from the Democrats on this?

Mary Jo Pitzl: There wasn't.

Ted Simons: Where did it go?

Mary Jo Pitzl: The senator minority leader, Katie Hobbs, said after the hearing that she didn't want she's got to work with this guy and she didn't want to be the only person voting no. However, this is your opportunity. Who are we working for? It should be for the greater good and for the public and there are a lot of questions about the early days of McKay coming into this position. What was going on that merited a whistle blower response? He's answered why the internal investigation office, why he's dismantling that. What are his qualifications? He's a police officer by training but he's been involved with child safety issues for quite some time.

Steve Goldstein: This may not be a valid defense but what's interesting is everyone wanted to be on board to help kids who are in danger and previously cps failed at that because it's a very difficult job. Moving forward, I feel like someone like Katie Hobbes, you want to make sure things are going in the right direction.

Ted Simons: I wonder why there weren't more questions. Voting is one thing but asking the questions, you think would be

Jeremy Duda: This is a job of the loyal opposition and we didn't really see the kind of opposition we're used to seeing there. Hard to say why.

Ted Simons: We talked about transparency regarding the administration, transparency seems to be an issue in a lot of general directions. Now, we have a bill that shields the I.D. of police that are involved in shootings. Where does this bill stand and what does this bill do?

Jeremy Duda: This bill has gotten out of committees, as well. This would bar police departments from releasing the names of officers involved in shooting deaths or use of deadly force that results in serious injury for 60 days, it was 90 days, now it's 60 days and their concern is that protesters are going to show up at their house or they're going to be condemned in the media or something like that but for a lot of other folks it's very alarming that these are very serious incidents and getting their names allows us to find out a lot about who they are and what these instances are about and this is going to keep a lot of this secret.

Mary Jo Pitzl: This is part of the continuing trend that we've seen, maybe like over the last decade to close off more and more information to public knowledge. The answer on this one for people that criticize this bill is well you can file an action in court to get that information. I think you can do that after the 60 days, but that's the only way it's going to be released. If this passes you're not going to have police departments putting out press releases 60 days after a shooting saying, by the way.

Steve Goldstein: It's such an overreaction to Ferguson, to New York City, and yet that is almost the defense for things like this, the idea that we had these situations, do we want riots like this? From the perspective of, and I know the lawmakers said this, when you read between the lines, it's based on timing.

Jeremy Duda: A lot of what you hear from the proponents of this bill is this could put the officers and their families at risk, there could be threats of violence but we haven't actually seen anything like that happen around here.

Ted Simons: And I think the critics are also saying that police-involved shootings, those are serious incidents, that demand transparency and demand that kind of information to get out there.

Mary Jo Pitzl: That's why there's talk about body cameras, which is not going to happen under the bill, it didn't make it.

Ted Simons: What's going on with senator allen and her son-in-law? And police due process or law enforcement due process and self-dealing, etc., etc.?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Senator Sylvia allen is bringing a personal experience to bear on a piece of legislation that she introduced. Her son-in-law was subject to some allegations at the jail, there was an internal investigation that was done, found these complaints credible. But during that process, he did not have a chance to respond until he was handed the results and that's your window to respond. What this really became and these were pretty salacious allegations of providing contraband in response for sexual favors from female inmates but really what this is, it's an employer-employee dispute. She got in it on the employee side, which is interesting because the employees are unionized peace officers, which is usually not her constituency. So the county supervisor at the time, she tried to intervene in this investigation. She said she wasn't intervening but she believed there was some data missing from files and used her position to inquire about that and then came down to the legislature and came into the Senate and wrote a bill that would provide more due process if such a case like this were to happen at any time. It won't help the son-in-law. He's gone from the agency.

Ted Simons: This is not self-dealing because

Jeremy Duda: Because it won't help her son-in-law and apparently, a lot of folks in the legislature agree. We've seen a lot of bipartisan support for this surprisingly or maybe not so much. A lot of the details weren't known this week, prior to that the bill was moving through but it didn't come up in committee, still some bipartisan support, like police chiefs opposed this, the group that represent the rank and file are a lot more supportive.

Mary Jo Pitzl: The Democrats, you know, liked this bill and it was sort of surprising that there was some Republicans that went along with it. Some reluctantly saying this whole, you know, police chief, police officer relationship, the disciplinary process is broken, we should get rid of it, make it like the private sector and you work at will. It doesn't quite work in union circles, but the debate really doesn't have anything to do with senator allen's case per se. That did not seem to influence votes.

Ted Simons: The fact that she was involved as a supervisor and gets kind of involved as a lawmaker didn't raise too many eyebrows?

Jeremy Duda: Not at the legislature at least.
Ted Simons: We'll move on.

Steve Goldstein: It's a wonderful thing that Sylvia allen is a symbol of bipartisanship.

Ted Simons: And protecting union workers.

Ted Simons: Speed camera ban. How many times is this thing going to pop up and talk to us, please.

Jeremy Duda: Three or four times this session at least. A number of bills, this is the fourth one that's come up that deals with photo radar cameras, which is intensely unpopular but it seems like the impetus for getting rid of them hasn't been as high and cities and counties, you know, they don't want to ban these things, they still use the things for revenue and even got some testimony from Mesa police said the footage on these things, you could use this for the case of this big shooting in Mesa the other day and why would we want to get rid of that?

Ted Simons: Wasn't testimony going on or wasn't this hearing going on during that time and Mesa place saying this could help us in this situation?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes, yes, also at the same time there was scheduled to be a hearing on the guns in public buildings bill that got held. I suspect for unrelated reasons. Guns in public buildings actually, this shooting might help the argument, proponents for that, but even though the east valley institute of technology where some of this happened is a school and that would have been exempt from it.

Ted Simons: As far as the speed camera, are we going to see attempts next session that constantly show up and constantly get shot down?

Steve Goldstein: This is one of those things that is it's one of those that advances a slight bit and gets pulled back and it comes down to one of the state versus local control issues again where let's let the communities decide what they want to do and legislature has a hard time.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And now, you're seeing because this has been kicked around for so long, different ways to try to come in and get at it, representative mesnard had a bill that would have eliminated the fine on it if you didn't respond to the subpoena. So then you would have no fine, there's no penalty. So why not go ahead break the law?

Ted Simons: Clean elections referring that back to the voters. We had a debate on this the other night. And it looks like we're going to reconsider this? Revisit this? What's going on?

Jeremy Duda: A measure that would send this question to the ballot, after 15 years, do voters want to repeal clean elections as public campaign funding? There was one interesting change they made to this in the Senate committee this week, which is the way that you're going to kind of entice voters to do it because clean elections polls well, they're going to sweep the $9 million a year or so that the system gets into K-12 education. Well, the chair of the house elections committee said we don't need any more money that's voter protected that we can't touch. Even some of the supporters are telling me this could hurt this thing when it goes to the ballot because you get rid of that carrot.

Steve Goldstein: Talking to Steve pierce this week, making the argument that I can't work with these people. You need to make it so the chamber of commerce is helping pick so there's not a Russell Pearce. The legislature is not functioning because of that.

Ted Simons: Clean elections has resulted in more extreme legislature.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And there's evidence of it but there's nothing that would prohibit a nonextreme candidate from using public campaign financing, unless it depends on the dynamics of your race.

Ted Simons: All right, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Ted Simons: Monday on "Arizona Horizon," Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton talks about taking the city's transportation plan to the voters, and we'll look at a program designed to help Latinos graduate. That's Monday at 5:30 and 10:00 on "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now, I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great weekend.

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

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Mary Jo Pitzl:Journalist, Arizona Republic; Jeremy Duda:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times; Steve Goldstein:Journalist, KJZZ;

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