Jon Hinz Gets the Boot From the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities

In the world of Arizonans dealing with developmental disabilities, Jon Hinz is a rock star. Sounds funny, I know, but he's been one of the community's strongest advocates for three decades.

Hinz's 30-year-old daughter, Missy, was born with Down syndrome. Rather than let her condition embarrass him, or accept the idea that her prospects were limited, Hinz fought to make things better. As a girl, Missy Hinz was the face of a national organization for people with cognitive disabilities. And when Missy grew older, Hinz didn't just see that she graduated from high school — he eventually started a business to give her (and people like her) a place to work.

Back in the 1980s, Hinz even served as executive director for the Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities. So when Governor Janet Napolitano was looking for appointees to serve on the council five years ago, Hinz was a natural choice.

But, in November, his fellow council members voted to kick Hinz off the board.

I always find it entertaining when someone gets "fired" from a volunteer job. But when it comes to irony, this one really takes the cake.

A 13-employee state agency, the council is supposed to bring together the disabled, their family members, and the agencies that serve them. The goal? Enhancing the lives of people with disabilities, connecting them with services, and advocating for them.

But the council voted to kick Hinz off mainly because his version of advocacy wasn't the council's version. The council's chairman claims that Hinz violated its code of conduct by — gasp! — "speaking in opposition to the council at public meetings."

As it turns out, the council's one-year-old code of conduct requires members to "publicly support the decisions made by a majority of the council membership, regardless of whether or not they personally support those decisions."

I have to wonder what the Constitution's framers would have thought of that one.

And the council's former chairman had more to say about Hinz. Matthew Wangeman told an Arizona Senate committee in December that Hinz was so aggressive that members were "scared" to come to meetings with him. Wangeman claimed that Hinz even threatened his life.

Suffice it to say, legislators weren't convinced.

"I find it curious that those allegations were made against Mr. Hinz," State Senator Linda Gray, R-Phoenix, told me this week. "I've known him probably 12 years, and I've never seen that side of him. I've also seen him with his special-needs daughter, and I've seen the tenderness with which he treats her."

It's no coincidence that Linda Gray has known Jon Hinz for years. Just about everybody who's anybody at the Legislature knows him. He's not just Missy's dad. As former chairman of the state GOP, and a lobbyist for insurance reform who works closely with the powerful left-leaning Arizona Trial Lawyers Association, Hinz is that rare guy with friends in high places on both sides of the aisle.

Politically speaking, the Governor's Council couldn't have picked a stupider fight.

And if the target was bad, the timing was even worse. The agency is facing its "sunset review" from the Legislature — under state law, it must either justify its existence or face elimination. While the council's $1.3 million annual budget comes entirely from the federal government, legislators believe they'd have the right to replace the entire council with a new group. It wouldn't be a sunset on the concept so much as on the people currently running the show.

Bottom line: The council's decision to expel Hinz has exposed serious tensions. At the December session of the Senate committee chaired by Gray, critics came out of the woodwork to detail concerns with the council — and their concerns had nothing to do with Hinz's outspokenness.

In fact, the speakers echoed many of the complaints Hinz has been making. They said that the council improperly uses disabled adults as lobbyists. They said it's sold parents and family members down the river in favor of "self-advocacy" for the disabled. And, they said, the agency has engaged in conflicts of interests and violations of open-meetings law.

I intend to look into these questions in the coming year. But what's already clear to me is this: In recent years, the developmental disability community has fractured badly over two issues.

In both cases, Hinz opposed the leadership of the Governor's Council — and won.

My former colleague Megan Irwin detailed the first issue in a recent cover story. The Arizona Training Center in Coolidge is an institution for people with severe developmental disabilities — the last of its kind in this state. You might picture a grim ward overcrowded with neglected old folks. But Irwin found, instead, a caring, well-functioning home.

For most of its aging residents, it's the only one they've ever known.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske