Pima County Democrats Potentially Violated Open Meeting Law In Replacing Lawmaker

Pima County Democrats Potentially Violated Open Meeting Law In Replacing Lawmaker

By Corinne Murdock |

The Pima County Democrats may have violated open meeting law by neglecting to issue public notice of their meeting and requiring secrecy when selecting potential replacements for former State Rep. Andrés Cano. State law nullifies any actions taken during a meeting found to have violated open meeting law. 

The public must receive a 24-hour notice of the meeting details. However, as Tucson Sentinel reported, Pima County Democratic Party leadership initially refused to provide access to the online meeting link. 

Leslie Stalc, Legislative District 20 chair, reportedly told the outlet that she “sent out notices to anyone who was concerned” when asked if she issued public notice of the meeting. During the meeting, Pima County Democratic Chairman Eric Robbins reportedly prohibited public participants from recording the meeting or discussing anything that took place. 

“No party but the party host may create an audio or video recording of these proceedings,” said Robbins. “No matters discussed here may be disseminated to the public for any purpose not consistent with the goals of the Pima County Democratic Party.”

Later on in the meeting, Robbins reportedly admitted that they hadn’t been as transparent about the meeting as they should have. He denied any malicious intent, predicting that reporters might pick up on the potential open meeting law violation.

“We are trying to accommodate this and be as open and transparent as possible. Again, if people need to level criticism on that point, I understand it,” said Robbins. “It’s certainly news if you have to make it news. But realize we’re not trying to do anything nefarious here.”

The leadership also reportedly opted to not disclose the vote tallies during the meeting, but pledged to do so at a later point. 

After the meeting, counsel for the Arizona Democratic Party (ADP) declared that leadership met open meeting law requirements by putting a calendar event on their website. The event listing didn’t include information about how the public could attend.

The Pima County Democratic Party calendar only listed the Tanque Verde Valley Democratic Club Monthly Meeting. Legislative District 20 meetings occur on the fourth Monday of each month. 

The county party didn’t post about the meeting on any of their social media profiles.

Fellow LD20 lawmakers, State Rep. Alma Hernandez and State Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, requested a do-over of the meeting in a joint letter to the ADP and the Pima County Board of Supervisors (BOS).

Supervisor Matt Heinz told Tucson Sentinel that it didn’t matter if the public was notified. Even if the meeting did violate open meeting law, Heinz said he would propose that his colleagues consider the three candidates anyway. 

“The public notice thing doesn’t make a difference for the process at least with this,” said Heinz.

Cano resigned formally on Independence Day, about a month after announcing his intent to do so. The former lawmaker stepped down to obtain a master’s degree in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. 

Pima County Democrats voted last Saturday for three candidates to replace Cano: Elma Alvarez, Lourdes Escalante, and Betty Villegas.

Alvarez is a Tucson Unified School District teacher. Escalante is the executive director and former co-director of programming of Alianza Indigena Sin Fronteras, an activist group across southern border states and Mexico. 

Villegas is the development director for the South Tucson Housing Authority, with a brief former stint as a supervisor for Pima County and a longtime housing program manager for the county. 

Cano issued support for candidates Villegas and Alvarez. 

The unselected candidates were Michael Crawford, Wesley Crew, Andrew Curley, Sami Hamed, and Akanni Oyegbola. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.