News

Psyched Out: Governor Jan Brewer’s Liaison Hijacks the Democratic Process

Page 2 of 3

House Bill 2206 offered a new plan. If a psychologist has been appointed by the court for a divorce case, any complaints go to the court first. Judges are familiar with these cases; only if they suspect misconduct would a complaint get forwarded to the board for its review.

State Representative David Bradley, a Democrat from Tucson, was a bill sponsor. It wasn't until the very end of the legislative process, he says, that he heard rumors that the Governor's Office had a concern with the new complaint system. Even then, he never heard specifics.

Ultimately, the bill sailed through both chambers without opposition. I watched videotapes of its committee hearings; it drew literally no public dissent.

Governor Brewer signed it.

The governor did issue a signing letter, which suggests the chatter that Representative Bradley heard may have had some validity. Brewer wanted to have further discussion: She was concerned, she wrote, that the process would put a strain on the courts.

Indeed, a little discussion on that point might have done some good. Had Brewer conferred with judges, she likely would have realized that the new plan would actually speed up judicial dockets. Complaints about evaluations are a common stalling tactic. It would take judges hardly any time to dismiss frivolous complaints — and forward anything remotely complicated to the psych board.

But a discussion was not to be had. Because even though the psych board worked to gain approval for the plan for years, it voted in a conference call last month to undo its efforts and seek repeal.

Why?

According to meeting minutes, the board feared that the governor's liaison, Auther, would otherwise yank its funding, leaving psychologists here unregulated.

At a board meeting in August, the board's lobbyist, Stuart Goodman, explained that he had met with Jeri Auther, along with the board's executive director, Dr. Cynthia Olvey, and deputy director, Megan Hinckley.

"Based on the discussion during the meeting, Mr. Goodman reported that it is the governor's liaison's expectation that the entire section relating to judicially appointed psychologists should be restored to its original status," the minutes report.

And Auther wasn't taking no for an answer.

During a September 4 conference call, Dr. Olvey reported that Auther had called to demand a copy of the August minutes. Auther then followed up by phone to make her demands even more clear, Olvey reported, according to an audio version of the meeting I obtained through a public-records request.

The new language needed to be repealed. There would be no negotiating.

Naturally, board members responded with horror.

"I don't think it's a good process to dictate to a board, or anyone for that matter, that there can be no discussion and no meeting of the minds," said Dr. Frederick Wechsler, according to the audiotape.

Added board member Megan Hunter-Williams, "I don't feel like I live in America. I feel like I'm being dictated to. It's wrong to be dictated to this way."

The board gave in.

Typically, regulatory agencies such as the psych board pay for themselves — they collect fees to cover their operations.

But thanks to "sweeps" from the Governor's Office that vacuumed up extra cash from regulatory boards, even the best-run agencies aren't sitting on surpluses anymore. They believe they can't say no to the Governor's Office without risking oblivion.

Board members were clearly afraid of Auther's power.

"She's the representative to the governor for the regulatory boards, and her directive is that we're to return to the original language," board member Dr. Gary Lovejoy said, according to the minutes. "This is a Solomon's decision. I think we risk having psychologists in Arizona in six, nine months, or a year not being regulated with an insolvent board. I agree with the political reality — that we do exactly what the Governor's Office directed and let the chips fall where they may."

So the board voted to work to return the law to its previous form. Not a brave act, but the board thought the greater good required it.

The crazy denouement: In reality, the governor was asking for no such thing.

I talked to the governor's spokesman, Paul Senseman. I explained that the board had voted to work to repeal the law.

That was never the governor's intention, he said.

"We are not seeking a repeal at all," he told me. "This part of the bill, about where complaints originate, this administration is comfortable with that. Or the governor would not have signed the bill."

The governor wants follow-up discussion, Senseman added. "When anyone implements these omnibus bills, there's always further discussion and hearing of these issues. We want to make absolutely sure that this is the best policy."

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