My letter to Bruce Meyerson regarding discrimination

During my three years in Arizona, I was often surprised by how government agencies and the universities would blithely ignore the law concerning job applicants and contract bidders. Yes, it makes me appear a bit paranoid, but I know that I was not hired for a university teaching position because I had been Evan Mecham’s press secretary — and I know for certain that my academic and professional qualifications were greater than the person hired. This is why I eventually and reluctantly moved back to California.

Below is an example of this discrimination. I was a consultant to a small firm owned and managed by African-Americans. We had bid on a project to provide statistical analysis to the Arizona Department of Tourism. Our bid was rejected and we appealed. 

Hearing that appeal was Bruce Meyerson, the General Legal Counsel for Arizona State University. We could not prove it, but it was fairly obvious that we were not selected because Kala Pearson and I had both worked for Mecham.

Then, Meyerson was nominated by Governor Mofford and endorsed by the State Bar for a position on the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. Adding to his credentials, Meyerson was a former appellate court judge.

He was obviously qualified for the job, but his confirmation was opposed by State Senator Robert Usdane, who said there would be no confirmation hearing “due to Meyerson’s representation of the United Farm Workers Union early in his career.”

I saw a parallel between the rejection of Meyerson and how Meyerson himself had rejected our bid based not on qualifications, but rather on previous political involvement. So, I sent him the letter below. There was no response from Meyerson or any of the five politicians to whom copies were sent.

– Ken Smith


KENNETH V. SMITH

Tempe, AZ 35234

June 8, 1989

Mr. Bruce Meyerson
University General Legal Counsel
Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ 85287-2003

Dear Bruce:

In your rejection by the State Senate, you should feel fortunate that the political retribution directed toward you was at least discussed openly. If anyone should suggest that you are a bit paranoid, you have a fistful of newspaper clippings to prove otherwise.

Nearly two years ago, I was recruited by several Republican leaders to take the job as Governor Evan Mecham’s second press secretary. I did not expect to have medals pinned on me (although they are deserved), but neither did I anticipate that I would be politically stigmatized because I once had a difficult and unpopular client.

In the past year, I have been told confidentially on dozens of occasions that I would not be hired or retained because of my association with Mecham. This is unwarranted and blatant personal and political discrimination. These rejections have involved state government openings, university and community college teaching jobs, news media positions, and even private enterprise. The reason for rejecting me, when it is given at all, is always whispered and never written.

I cannot help but wonder if this rejection also applies to bids for state contracts. It is certainly possible, given the political atmosphere in Arizona, that political considerations had been involved as you developed your legal response to the appeal of Spectra Development concerning the bid for the Office of Tourism project.

My curiosity about the possibility of political considerations was heightened when I recalled that at our last meeting there was an attempt in the brief prepared by you to denigrate our professional backgrounds. Although never discussed at our several meetings, you are certainly aware from our resumes that Kala Pearson was appointed by Governor Mecham as the deputy director of the Office of Affirmative Action, that Neal Nikolaisen had been a statistical consultant to the Mecham administration, and that I was Governor Mecham’s press secretary.

l believe it was wrong for the State Senate to seek retribution against you because of you legal defense of an unpopular client. However, your current political views are fair game because that is the constitutional theory behind legislative confirmation of executive appointments. Conversely, our laws concerning state bidding procedures prohibit personal and political discrimination in awarding contracts such as the one for which Spectra submitted a bid in response to the request for proposals from the Arizona Office of Tourism.

While I am familiar with the laws concerning government contracts, I am sufficiently experienced to also know that throughout the country there are occasional violations of statutes and administrative rules in the pre-determination of winning bidders. Sometimes, just sometimes, a contract is awarded for political and personal reasons rather being based on value and merit. On any campus in the nation, you could say to a grant writer that an “RFP is wired” and he or she would know what you are talking about. This academic jargon reflects the reality.

I realize that as general counsel for ASU you are arguing the official position of your client. However, l would expect from your background in the farm labor movement that your personal views might be more sympathetic to our side.

Spectra Development is a small company owned by minorities and managed by a black female. l am a subcontractor and consultant to Spectra. The purpose of the company is to help both the poor and the poorly connected break the cycle of self- serving, business-as-usual government and academic bureaucrats awarding contracts to a sanitized list of pre-approved contractors.

Sinccrely,

Kenneth V. Smith

cc:
Governor Rose Mofford
Sen. Robert Usdane
Rep. Jane Dee Hull
Sen. Doug Todd
Rep. Bev Hermon