State Capitol News
4:27 pm
Tue July 12, 2011

Drug-Sniffing Dogs to Examine Utility Regulator Offices

Phoenix, AZ – Last week a staffer at the Arizona Corporation Commission found a small quantity of marijuana in a bathroom accessible only to commissioners, their aides and their secretaries. Chairman Gary Pierce said allowing dogs to search the offices will help preserve public confidence in the commission which not only regulates the rates charged by private utilities but also oversees railroad safety and the sale of some securities.

(Arizonans depends on us as commissioner to make decisions which are thorough, thoughtful, legal and are made with the assurance that no one in that decision-making process is impaired through the use of illegal drugs.)

Pierce also said he would take a drug test to prove he did not use the marijuana. The other two Republican commissioners, Bob Stump and Brenda Burns, agreed to go along. Burns said she understands the need for the sweep.

(I don't know that we are going to find out who left the marijuana in the bathroom. It would be nice to know that. But to the extent that it does provide some comfort, I'm certainly willing to cooperate.)

Paul Newman and Sandra Kennedy, the two Democrats on the panel, said they would not consent to the search. In a later prepared statement, Newman said the U.S. and state constitutions guarantee individuals the right to be free from improper searches. He also accused Pierce of -- quote -- political hysteria over what was a few scraps of green plant material. Without their consent, Pierce is powerless, as a commission attorney told him that, absent probable cause and a search warrant he could not search the personal areas of commissioners or their staffs without consent. Interviewed later, Pierce said his desire to reassure Arizona about the decisions made by the commission did not extend to having them routinely tested for being drunk before voting on key issues.

(That's an interesting issue. If we were to suspect someone was impaired here, we would do something about that if we suspected that. I don't know that anybody's ever brought issues like that before. But we would do something if we felt somebody was impaired in the decision-making process on the stand that we could visually see.)

Pierce said he was not making any accusations on who he believes is responsible for the marijuana. For Arizona Public Radio this is Howard Fischer.