AG’s Lawsuit Against Cochise County Adds To Disarray In Wake Of Elections Director’s Departure


trio mayes marra fontes

Cochise County’s former elections director has gone to work for the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office, while county officials continue efforts to ensure a vital election can take place in May despite a lawsuit filed Tuesday by the state’s attorney general.

On Monday, Lisa Marra’s new job as Adrian Fontes’ deputy election director was announced to elections officials across the state. The hiring surprised many, as Marra’s resignation last month left Cochise County’s election department in disarray and has put a May 16 election about funding a new jail in jeopardy.

That election became more imperiled Tuesday when Arizona Secretary of State Kris Mayes sued the Cochise County Board of Supervisors and County Recorder David Stevens over an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) the board approved Feb. 28 to have Stevens serve as Interim Elections Director until a new director can be hired.

The IGA was intended to provide Stevens the same authority Marra had to run the elections department. The attorney general’s lawsuit does not object in principle to Cochise County’s plan to have Stevens –a certified elections official– handle the duties of Elections Director until Marra’s old job is filled.

In fact, Mayes’ lawsuit points out such arrangements are permissible and have been undertaken by some counties in Arizona “to make elections more efficient and effective.”

But the attorney general contends the language of the IGA drafted by the Cochise County Attorney’s Office in this situation violates state law in various ways.

“In shifting all election duties to the Recorder – a distinct constitutional county officer – the Agreement says not a word about how or whether the public may still have access to deliberations on matters that the Board would normally consider in open meetings,” the lawsuit argues.

Another count of the lawsuit alleges possible misuse of county funds if the IGA is allowed to stand as is.

By giving Stevens unlawful authority over the Board’s elections duties, Mayes argues that “Stevens will cause payments to be made or ordered without authorization of law, and the Board has promised to fund those actions.”

Mayes’ lawsuit further points out that prior to the Feb. 28 vote, her office issued an advisory letter to the county attorney’s office and the three county board members expressing concern with “the legality” of the proposed IGA. The Board of Supervisors approved the IGA on a 2 to 1 vote without changes despite the legal concerns.

The Cochise County supervisors and Stevens are scheduled to meet 10 a.m. Wednesday to discuss the attorney general’s lawsuit as well as a complaint filed with Mayes’ office about a possible open meeting violation in connection with the Feb. 28 vote.

The agenda for Wednesday’s emergency meeting includes an item for discussion of hiring outside counsel for the supervisors and Stevens, instead of having the Cochise County Attorney’s Office provide representation.

Stevens says he is disillusioned and disheartened by the insinuation that he is purposely violating state law in agreeing to oversee the elections duties until a new director is in place. He reiterated that the IGA was put forth by the county’s own in-house attorneys.

“I try to live a life of honor as best as I can,” Stevens explained after learning of Mayes’ lawsuit. “There’s nothing nefarious in my offer to help where I can.”

Before being elected as Cochise County Recorder in 2016, Stevens served four terms in the Arizona Legislature. Prior to that, he served 10 years in the U.S. Army with above top-secret clearance in cybersecurity roles.

After the IGA was approved last week, Stevens announced his first plan of action was to advertise for a new elections director. However, Arizona Daily Independent has confirmed the plan is on hold after budget reports raise questions of whether funds are available to hire a qualified candidate before June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

“I’ve spent my entire career being transparent and promoting transparency at every opportunity. I can’t recall ever having my integrity questioned like this,” he said.