Kathy Zatari, Attorney Fired by AZ Department of Administration, Files Whistleblower Claim

Attorney Kathy Zatari, who served as administrator of the Governor's Regulatory Review Council for 3 1/2 years, has filed a notice of claim against the state, alleging she was fired for reporting possible violations of state policy to her supervisors.

Those violations, according to the claim, partially involve Zatari's one-time employee, Jeri Auther. But, in a strange twist of fate, after Zatari was fired in September 2009, Auther was actually given her job.

As New Times reported at the time, Auther had come under fire for ordering the state board that governs psychologists to work to repeal a law they'd previously lobbied state legislators to pass. The psychologists' board believed that Auther, as the governor's liasion to the agency, was speaking on behalf of Governor Jan Brewer -- but New Times learned that wasn't the case. The governor's office wanted a few minor fixes, not repeal.

We discussed our findings with the governor's spokesman, Paul Senseman, on Friday, September 25. We even faxed him some relevant documents detailing Auther's overreaching demands to the psychologists' board.

The following Tuesday, Zatari was told that her services were no longer needed -- and, within days, Jeri Auther was moved to the position instead.

At the time, we assumed that Governor Brewer needed to pull Auther out of the liasion job, pronto. We thought that the administrator job at the governor's council, or GRRC, merely provided a safe landing.

But Zatari's notice of claim, filed with the state two weeks ago, tells a more complicated tale.

For one thing, Zatari alleges that she'd received nothing but stellar evaluations -- and that the man who served as her boss for all but a few months of her tenure is "prepared to provide glowing recommendations of Ms. Zatari's capabilities as an attorney and manager."

For another, Zatari details a serious of complaints she made about Auther, or heard about, that were swept under the rug by other state administrators, one of them just two days before we made our call to the governor's spokesman.

The Arizona Department of Administration, which is named in the suit, declined comment. Auther did not respond to our message seeking comment.

Zatari's claim -- which is basically a prelude to a lawsuit -- was filed by Mesa attorney Robert M. Gregor. He tells New Times that both Zatari and Auther applied for the review council's "administrator" position in January 2006. (Zatari was an outside candidate; Auther was already a staff attorney at the agency, which reviews new administrative rules and regulations to "avoid unnecessary duplication and adverse impact upon the public.) Zatari got the job and became Auther's supervisor.

Soon after, Zatari's boss, Alex Turner, confided to her that Auther had "staked out" Turner's house, "parking her car in front of his home for lengthy periods of time, and was following him," according to the claim. And, not long after that, an ADOT employee contacted Zatari to file a complaint against Auther, according to Zatari's claim.

Zatari's boss told her that Auther "was the only GRCC staff attorney about whom he has ever received complaints from other agencies," according to the claim.

Auther resigned from the governor's council a few months later. But three years later, she returned to Zatari's orbit after Governor Brewer hired her to serve as a liasion. Soon after, according to Zatari's suit, Auther had to be told to stop contacting a GRCC employee whom she'd previously dated.

After that, Zatari alleges, Auther then contacted her several times about a "rulemaking assignment," whatever that means. Zatari was concerned; apparently Auther was asking for a review to be completed more quickly than was feasible. But when she talked to her bosses, she was "instructed not to raise this legal issue any further" with the GRRC.

Then, in July 2009, the Department of Administration's longtime director retired. A few months later, in September, the new director and chair of the governor's council, Paulina Vasquez-Morris, wanted to move fast on some items, faster than Zatari believed was statutorily appropriate. After she raised concerns, she believes Vasquez-Morris grew angry. She "took Ms. Zatari's comments about the issues ... personally, and her tone of voice was angry and dismissive."

Within just a few weeks, everything began happening at once. New Times contacted the governor's office with the psychologists' board's issues regarding Auther. Zatari raised more concerns about Auther, apparently expressing her concern to her boss just days before our phone call.

Then, Zatari was fired. Two days later, Auther was given a new post -- Zatari's old job as the administrator of the governor's council.

The fix may have seemed convenient at the time. Paulina Vasquez-Morris is a political supporter of Governor Brewer's, and she clearly wasn't happy with Zatari. Meanwhile, Auther's overreach with the psycholgists' board suggested that state agencies could no longer trust that she was actually representing the governor's interests.

But Zatari's notice of claim clearly indicates she's not going away without a fight. Her attorney, Gregory, says that she was fired as retaliation for expressing her concerns about Auther and about the regulatory process. "Her evaluations were all very positive," he says. "The state could not point to job performance as an issue. So then why did they get rid of her?"

He notes that he's learned that Jeri Auther had a history of filing complaints: "They may have felt compelled to keep [Auther] somewhere, and they may have thought, 'Why not get rid of the one making the noise about her?'" he speculates.

Gregory says Zatari has yet to find another job. He says the notice of claim is no idle threat: "We are going forward with a lawsuit." And he hints that he can't wait for discovery. "There are reasons the governor put Jeri Auther in that position, and we intend to find out what they are." Sounds juicy, no?

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