The Arizona Office of Ombudsman-Citizens Aide was established on July 1, 1996 as an independent agent of the Arizona Legislature. Statutory authority is found at A.R.S. §§ 41-1371 et seq.
The Ombudsman reviews complaints of citizens who believe they have been treated unfairly by Arizona government. The process of review begins with an evaluation of the complaint and may include one of the following responses: 1) coaching to allow the citizen to resolve the complaint; 2) direct communication by the Ombudsman with the agency involved; or 3) an investigation of the agency’s action. Notice to the agency is required, unless notification would hinder the investigation. The Ombudsman is bound by confidentiality requirements as outlined in statute.
The Ombudsman is also authorized to investigate complaints related to child safety and complaints related to public access laws involving an agency.
The Ombudsman was originally established in order to investigate complaints brought by Arizona citizens regarding the administrative actions of state agencies. The responsibilities were expanded in 1998 to include investigations related to Child Protective Services. (Note: In 2014, the division of Child Protective Services in the Arizona Department of Economic Security was replaced by a stand-alone agency, called the Arizona Department of Child Safety. See Laws 2014, Second Special Session, Chapter 1). In 2007, the Ombudsman responsibilities were expanded to include investigation of complaints related to public records and open meeting laws.
Laws 1995, Chapter 281 established the Office of the Ombudsman, effective July 1, 1996, to “investigate citizens’ complaints by investigating administrative acts of state agencies and to issue an annual report to the Governor, Legislature and the public.” Services were available to all Arizona citizens, although the Office was not authorized to investigate complaints filed by a person in the custody of the Arizona Department of Corrections. The measure outlined the selection process and term of office for the Ombudsman; the scope of investigations; confidentiality requirements; procedures; protections; location of the office; and reporting requirements. Patrick Shannahan was appointed as Ombudsman-Citizen Aide by Laws 1996, Chapter 69.
In 1997, the Ombudsman was authorized to appoint an assistant to investigate complaints relating to Child Protective Services. The law provided access to records and the case management system maintained by the Department of Economic Security, Child Protective Services office. Information gathered during the investigation was confidential and was not subject to disclosure. See Laws 1997, Second Special Session, Chapter 3.
Laws 2000, Chapter 47 authorized the Ombudsman to issue subpoenas if necessary and only if a prior request had been made and the person or agency failed to comply within a reasonable time.
Laws 2006, Chapter 370 authorized the appointment of two assistants by the Ombudsman to investigate complaints regarding public access laws involving an agency. The assistants were required to provide training, educational materials and programs to public officials. The measure also required information on the number of requests, inquiries and investigations related to public access laws to be included in the Ombudsman’s annual report.
Laws 2012, Chapter 107 appointed Dennis Wells as the Ombudsman-Citizen Aide to a five-year term, through June 30, 2017. Laws 2017, Chapter 49 continued his appointment to June 30, 2022. Statute requires the appointment of the Ombudsman-Citizen Aide to be proposed as a legislative measure, which must be approved by at least two-thirds of the membership of each chamber of the Legislature.
Laws 2014, Chapter 204 required the Ombudsman to provide the annual report to the Governor’s Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee and the Administrative Rules Oversight Committee. The distribution was in addition to existing requirements to provide the annual report to various entities, including the Governor, the Legislature and public.
Laws 2014, Second Special Session, Chapter 1 abolished the office of Child Protective Services and transferred its responsibilities and authority to the newly established Department of Child Safety. The measure included conforming changes to Ombudsman statutes.
Laws 2017, Chapter 30 required each state government website to include a link to the Ombudsman-Citizens Aide and a statement regarding the role of the Ombudsman to help citizens resolve issues with state agencies (effective August 1, 2018). The measure also required the Ombudsman’s annual report to describe public awareness and outreach activities.
- Arizona Revised Statutes §§ 41-1377 through 41-1383
- Arizona Administrative Code A.A.C. R2-16-210 through R2-16-503
- Session Laws
- Laws 1995, Chapter 281
- Laws 1996, Chapter 69
- Laws 1997, Second Special Session, Chapter 3
- Laws 2000, Chapter 47
- Laws 2006, Chapter 370
- Laws 2012, Chapter 107
- Laws 2014, Chapter 204
- Laws 2014, Second Special Session, Chapter 1
- Laws 2017, Chapter 30
- Laws 2017, Chapter 49
Agency website: www.azoca.gov