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Attorney: Public has no right to know who is paying for Arizona election audit
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PHOENIX — The attorney for Senate President Karen Fann told a judge Wednesday that the public has no right to know who is paying for the audit of the 2020 election the Senate is conducting.

Or, for that matter, pretty much anything else related to how Cyber Ninjas, the outside firm hired to do the work, is handling it.

During a hearing, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Kemp pointed out that Fann has, in hiring an outside firm to conduct the audit, said the Senate was performing “this important constitutional duty.’’

“Isn’t the public entitled to know who’s paying for this, besides the $150,000 the Senate has already appropriated?’’ the judge asked Kory Langhofer

“That’s a great political argument,’’ the attorney responded. “They should talk to the legislature about it.’’

Langhofer said, though, the fact remains that the records sought by American Oversight — and in a subsequent lawsuit filed by The Arizona Republic — are not in the hands of Fann or anyone at the Senate. And that, he said, puts them outside the scope what is required to be produced under the public records law.

But Langhofer told Kemp that, as far as the Senate is concerned, it really doesn’t matter if Fann or her staffers do have what is being sought. He claims the Arizona Constitution pretty much forbids judicial second-guessing of how the Senate conducts its business — and whether it is complying with the law.

“It can be trusted to handle its own affairs without judicial oversight,’’ he said.

And what if there’s a complaint that the Senate is not acting responsibly?

“They can take it up with the senators,’’ Langhofer said, saying people can call their own senators.

Other options are trying to unseat a senator who is “not being cooperative,’’ he said, or lobbying senators to change their internal rules about when they have to surrender documents.

“The solution is not to ask the judiciary to look over the Senate and manage internal Senate rules and procedures,’’ Langhofer said.

The Senate already has released many of the records related to the audit, including the contract Fann executed with Cyber Ninjas.

American Oversight, which describes itself as a nonpartisan watchdog group, seeks everything else that the contractor has obtained or produced while it has been conducted the audit. It also demands anything in the hands of former Secretary of State Ken Bennett who was named by Fann as her liaison with Cyber Ninjas.

That includes communications between Cyber Ninja representatives and individual senators. But the lawsuit also seeks other communications that the contractor has been having with outside third parties about the audit.

One particular area of concern has been contacts with One America News Network, a conservative, pro-Trump news outlet that has not just had special access to the audit but also has been involved in getting people to contribute to financing it. What is not known is how much has been contributed, who provided it and how much wound up in the hands of Cyber Ninjas without going through the Senate.

Then there are issues of who has been hired, how have they been trained and what has been the oversight.

Langhofer told Kemp there’s nothing else for the Senate to produce because it has nothing more. He claimed that the law requires public agencies to produce only the records within their “physical custody.’’

The judge was skeptical.

“Couldn’t public entities always hide behind this and say, ‘Well, we’ve hired a third-party vendor, therefore you can’t have any of the records’?’’ he asked, noting it is common for governments to contract out certain functions and services. “Wouldn’t this always give them an escape hatch not to comply with the public records law?’’

Langhofer said that might be true if there was some evidence that the contract was executed specifically to shield records from view.

“There’s no such allegation here,’’ he said. And Langhofer said the fact remains that any records created by Cyber Ninjas are not in the possession of Fann or the Senate.

And Langhofer said that, carried to its illogical conclusion, the arguments by American Oversight would require that FedEx surrender its personnel files if its services were used by the state to deliver documents.

Kemp, however, said he sees a difference. He said it was the Senate that hired Cyber Ninjas — and the Senate that has “total control’’ of the audit.

“So don’t they really have constructive possession of these documents?’’ the judge asked.

And attorney Keith Beauchamp representing American Oversight said nothing in the public records law refers to “physical custody.’’ Instead, Beauchamp said, the law requires officers and public agencies to maintain “all records reasonably necessary or appropriate to maintain an accurate knowledge of their official activities,’’ including activities supported by public funds.

And in this case, he told Kemp, the Senate has repeatedly argued that the audit is an official Senate function. In fact, Beauchamp noted, the Senate used precisely that argument of official Senate business in earlier litigation to force Maricopa County to surrender election equipment and the 2.1 million ballots cast in November.

“Here we have a vendor that is retained precisely to conduct the function that only the Senate is permitted to conduct,’’ he said. “The work being done by Cyber Ninjas is the Senate’s work.’’

Langhofer, however, said the bottom line remains that how the Senate does or does not comply with the law is governed by the Arizona Constitution — and beyond Kemp’s purview.

“It delegates expressly to the legislature the ability to set its own rules and procedures,’’ he said. “The rules and procedures that it has for following the public records act, making its records available, can and should be entrusted to the legislature itself.’’

Kemp promised a ruling within two weeks.

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CG marketing office, new trails advance
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CASA GRANDE — The city is advancing plans for a community marketing organization in conjunction with the Greater Casa Grande Chamber of Commerce after a delay caused by the pandemic.

The plans were discussed by the City Council during a study session Tuesday.

The goal is recruiting business, jobs and tourism.

According to the potential budget for the project, about $200,000 would be used for print and digital advertising and public relations outreach. The budget also includes $20,000 for city events and beautification while $80,000 would go to staff salaries and benefits. The city has considered raising the hotel tax from 2% to 5% to fund the effort.

“Casa Grande will be on the map, that’s the goal,” chamber President and CEO Renée Louzon-Benn said.

Some benefits listed in the presentation include Casa Grande being a tourist destination, economic growth and diversifying the workforce.

The plan is for council action during the third quarter of 2021 and to implement the effort in the fourth quarter.

“I’m so excited to see this move forward,” said Councilwoman Donna McBride. “I know that we’ve been stagnant for a while.”

Also during the council’s study session, Community Services Director Steve Hardesty gave an update on the trail system.

Through the strategic plan, the city plans to increase the trail system 5% annually over five years.

According to the presentation, options for future years 2022 and beyond include acquiring easements, land agreements or development east of Peart Road and west of Trekell Road.

During the regular meeting, the council approved a job order contract with Okanogan Trail Construction for a community trail project.

According to the agenda, the location of the proposed trail is a 1-mile section that runs along the North Branch of the Santa Cruz Wash between Trekell Road and Peart Road. The trailhead is proposed to be located in Rotary Park at 2220 N. Trekell Road.

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Cole Swindell concert signals return of shows to Harrah's
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MARICOPA — When he’s on stage, singing to fans, Cole Swindell says it’s hard to hide his smile. Being on stage is one of his favorite places to be.

“I love being on stage,” he said. “And it’s something I’ve missed this past year.”

On July 31, Swindell will take the stage at The Event Center at Harrah’s Ak-Chin as the facility opens up again to live, in-person concerts and events.

“I’m so excited for this show. I’m a huge music fan. I love going to shows and performing. After this past year of virtual shows and concerts, it will be nice be in front of an audience again. See how they respond to the music and feel their energy,” Swindell said.

With each show, he said, he aims to connect with the audience.

“When they leave the show, I want them to feel like they know me a little bit better.

Swindell is a country music singer and songwriter. His show at Harrah’s will feature his hit “Single Saturday Night,” along with other favorites crowds expect to hear.

“There will also be a few surprises,” he said.

Swindell is a Grammy-nominated multi-Platinum performer and a songwriter who has written hit singles for Craig Campbell, Thomas Rhett, Scotty McCreery and Luke Bryan.

A native of Georgia, he majored in marketing at Georgia Southern University, where he met fellow singer Luke Bryan.

He sold merchandise and T-shirts from Bryan and was writing songs on the road when he made the switch to performing.

“I was writing songs and someone said to me ‘why aren’t you performing these?’ So I started recording,” he said.

Since then, he has released three albums and nine singles, including seven that charted within the Top 5 of Hot Country Songs and/or Country Airplay.

Some fan favorites include “Love You Too Late,” “Right Where I Left It,” “You Should Be Here” and “Middle of a Memory.”

When he’s on stage, he said, he focuses on ensuring the crowd has a good time.

“I’m so excited for this show and happy to be back on stage performing for people,” he said.

The July 31 show begins at 8 p.m. Doors open an hour prior to the start.

Ticket information is available online at www.caesars.com/harrahs-ak-chin/shows.

Concert-goers are required to have their temperatures checked and wear a mask at all times, except when eating or drinking.