State prisons director Dora Schriro has become the most controversial appointment of Gov. Janet Napolitano’s administration, with Senate leaders withholding confirmation while investigations continue into the 15-day hostage standoff at the Lewis complex.
Senate President Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, said the delay will allow more facts to emerge about Schriro’s qualifications and her leadership since she took the job July 1 at $130,000 a year.
"Until we have an independent investigation of how the Lewis situation was handled, any committee hearing of Ms. S chriro as the director is going to become a public investigation (of the standoff)," Bennett said. "I think Ms. Schriro deserves her confirmation hearing to be broader in scope than just what happened in Lewis."
But some lawmakers said the delay could make it easier for Napolitano’s political opponents to taint consideration of Schriro.
"I have more than a sneaky suspicion that some people are waiting in the bushes to go after the director simply because she’s the governor’s appointee," said Senate president pro tem Carolyn Allen, R-Scottsdale.
A former corrections director in Missouri and St. Louis, Schriro, 54, was named June 13 as head of Arizona’s prison system. State agency directors can serve up to one year without Senate confirmation.
Schriro has said she believes lawmakers will recognize the problems at Lewis existed before she took office, and eventually will confirm her appointment.
But her boss has grown tired of waiting. During her weekly news conference Tuesday, Napolitano urged Senate leaders to act on Schriro’s confirmation.
"I think this director has proven herself time and time again during her first six months in office," Napolitano said. "She is more than capable of handling this job and she is the kind of person we need to come in and clean up this mess."
However, Bennett said Tuesday he won’t allow the confirmation to occur until after legislative leaders have heard from former U.S. Attorney Melvin McDonald.
McDonald is using a Maricopa County grand jury to investigate the standoff in which two inmates took control of a guard tower and held two corrections officers hostage. McDonald has said he expects to file a report around May 1.
The Legislature could be ready to end its regular session a couple of weeks earlier. Bennett said he’s prepared to have Napolitano call a special session related to Schriro’s confirmation instead of keeping lawmakers at the Capitol to see McDonald’s report.