Ariz. redistricting panelist sees misconduct signs

Posted: Updated:

PHOENIX (AP) -- An Arizona Redistricting Commission member told state prosecutors he saw indications that other commissioners made decisions on hiring mapping consultants before the panel's public vote.

However, Commissioner Rick Stertz, a Republican, also said he didn't know for sure whether other commissioners settled on a choice in talks among themselves before the commission's June 29 public vote.

Republican Attorney General Tom Horne is conducting an open meeting law investigation into the commission's controversial June 29 selection of a mapping firm. The office alleges there is evidence of serial talks between members that produced a decision prior to action in public.

The firm that was chosen, Washington-based Strategic Telemetry, has Democratic ties, and its selection on a 3-2 commission vote has prompted Republican politicians and tea party activists to contend that the drawing of new congressional and legislative districts could be slanted to favor Democrats.

The three commissioners who voted to hire Strategic Telemetry, have said it was the best qualified of four finalists and that the commission, not its consultants, will decide how to draw the maps.

The two Republicans wanted to pick a California firm that worked for the last commission.

Responding to requests by The Associated Press and other news media, Horne's office Friday released transcripts of interviews conducted with the panel's two Republican members.

According to the transcript of his Aug. 24 interview, Stertz testified that he based his assessment on the fact that three other commissioners who voted for the firm picked on a 3-2 vote had turned in evaluation sheets with identical forms with perfect scores for Strategic Telemetry.

It was disconcerting to learn that after the fact, Stertz said.

Earlier in the interview, Stertz was asked about a public statement by one of the Democratic commissioners, Jose Herrera, during the vote that Herrera favored another firm but voted to hire Strategic Telemetry "in the spirit of cooperation and negotiation."

Both Stertz and fellow Republican Commission Scott Freeman said in their separate interviews that they were unaware of any negotiations.

"I do not know how they deliberated. I do not know if they deliberated alone or together," he said.

However, both Republican commissioners said Chair Colleen Mathis, the commission's sole independent, called each of them separately before the June 29 meeting to say she wanted a 5-0 vote to hire Strategic Telemetry. Each said he demurred.

Mathis has declined to comment on various aspects of the investigation. The commission's attorneys have declined to address specifics of Horne's allegations but said the commission is committed to conducting its business in public.

Contending that Stertz's statements and other evidence point toward open meeting law violations, Horne's office Wednesday petitioned for a court order to require the three commissioners who voted to hire Strategic Telemetry to cooperate with the investigation.

An Oct. 3 hearing is scheduled in Maricopa County Superior Court.

Separate allegations that both Mathis and Stertz submitted incomplete and inaccurate applications to serve on the commission also are under review by the Attorney General's Office.

© 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.