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Boards and commissions meant to create rules to keep kids safe, and to provide insight and oversight on things like tax codes and Native American Health Care are completely devoid of members thanks to former Gov. Doug Ducey and current Gov. Katie Hobbs.
The 210 boards and commissions to which the governor appoints members inform the state legislature about a plethora of issues, govern important systems like the Arizona State Retirement System and award grants for things like research on iceberg lettuce.
As of Aug. 1, the last time the state updated its list of council and commission vacancies, there were 724 vacancies, with 41 boards listed as completely vacant — though that doesn’t necessarily mean that all of those 41 boards aren’t meeting and making recommendations or decisions. Christian Slater, a spokesman for Hobbs, told the Arizona Mirror that some of the boards, like the Commission on African American Affairs, can retain members whose terms have expired until someone is appointed to replace them.
That means that, according to the governor’s July list, 19% of boards and commissions to which she appoints members had no current members at all and 38% were unable to make a quorum, meaning they can’t legally meet. Only 25% of the boards and commissions had no vacancies.
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“The office is aware that it is crucial that these vacant seats are filled as quickly as possible,” Slater said.
Slater told the Mirror that it’s standard to see a large number of vacancies when a new administration takes over, including from the resignations of people who were appointed by the previous administration and served past the expiration of their terms.
“Out of the hundreds of boards and committees, we are prioritizing filling the vacancies (on boards) that are unable to meet if they don’t have the necessary number of people,” Slater said.
Hobbs has also appointed members to numerous boards and commissions in the nearly three months since that list was published, including to the Arizona-Mexico Commission, whose membership she wiped out completely in February. In August, she appointed new members, including reappointing some of those she had initially fired.
The Governor’s Office provided a list of more than two dozen boards and commissions that it said Hobbs had appointed new members to since July, but it did not respond to a request for details about who was appointed to the panels.
“The Governor’s Office of Boards and Commission hit the ground running under the Hobbs Administration back in January, and has been working to fill critical roles to ensure that none of them grind to a halt,” Slater told the Mirror.
But there are still some important commissions that aren’t meeting at all because they lack membership, like the Student Transportation Advisory Committee. That committee was tasked with creating rules for the use of 15-passenger vans to transport K-12 Arizona students to and from school, when the legislature passed a law allowing their use as a cheaper, more convenient alternative to school buses.
But even though some schools are already using the buses to transport students, the committee still hasn’t met to create those rules and guidelines because it’s had no members since before the law was passed in June 2022.
So, instead of using guidelines created to align specifically with the Arizona law allowing students to be transported in passenger vans, the Arizona Department of Public Safety is using federal law, along with guidance from the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, to inform public schools of safety standards for the vans, DPS spokesman Bart Graves told the Mirror.
Federal law says that any new van that holds 10 or more passengers and is sold to a school for student transportation must have all of the same safety features that are required for a traditional school bus, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, federal law does not regulate the sale of used vans to school districts.
And guidance from the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation that the Arizona Department of Public Safety is sharing with school districts seems to be in direct opposition to the Arizona law.
In a position paper from the association that Graves sent to the Mirror, the association called the use of passenger vans to transport students “an alarming situation with potentially disastrous consequences.”
The association stressed that students are safer in school buses, especially since school bus drivers have to obtain a commercial driver’s license while drivers of 15-passenger vans do not.
“The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services believes that it is
appropriate to require higher levels of safety in vehicles that transport children to and from school and school-related activities,” the organization wrote. “Accordingly, the Association supports the position that school children should be transported in school buses that provide the highest level of safety, not in full-sized vans that do not meet the stringent school bus safety standards issued by the federal government.”
But Hobbs isn’t the only one responsible for any confusion or lack of guidance caused by empty advisory councils in Arizona.
When Ducey, a Republican, was roughly six months into his tenure as governor, there were only 235 vacancies on boards and commissions to which the governor appoints members.
Six months before he left office, there were 573 vacancies, and many of the boards that were listed as completely vacant three months ago were already without members in July 2022, including the Student Transportation Advisory Council, the Municipal Tax Code Commission and the Military Affairs Commission.
As of July, Hobbs had only appointed 174 people to fill vacancies on boards and commissions.
As a new administration, Slater said that Hobbs has dedicated a significant amount of time to outreach and developing relationships.
“The Hobbs administration wants to fill these seats with a diverse group of people from different backgrounds and regions, so that they represent people all across Arizona,” Slater said. “That process requires careful vetting, which is time consuming. Governor Hobbs wants to ensure that we not only fill these vacancies, but more importantly, we find the right people that will serve the best interests of Arizonans.”
Hobbs initially did not respond to multiple requests to answer questions from the Mirror before this story was published, but emailed answers several hours after it was published Monday afternoon.
***UPDATE: This story was updated to include comments from the Governor’s Office that were provided after this story was initially published.
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