Photo: Queen Creek Republican Jake Hoffman holds letters authored by acting Arizona Department of Housing Director Joan Serviss that she admitted to have plagiarized others to write. (ACTV)
A congenial nomination discussion with Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs’ acting-director for the Department of Housing turned into an inquisition about the ethics of original content.
The Arizona Senate Committee on Director Nominations on Thursday voted along party lines not to recommend Joan Serviss to the full Senate for confirmation after finding she had taken broad swaths of content from other advocacy organizations and a couple of news outlets without attribution.
In each situation, she conveyed them as her own during her time as the head of the Arizona Housing Coalition. Senators found some of the examples of plagiarized work were submitted to government sources but didn’t specify whether any correspondence was applying for taxpayer-funded grants.
A request for comment from AHC wasn’t immediately returned.
Serviss admitted to using others’ work, commonly known as plagiarizing, but repeatedly told the committee she was under the impression it was common practice in the advocacy realm.
“I’m not denying any of these letters,” she said. “They are absolutely written by me on behalf of the housing coalition. I did so in what I viewed to be the common practice of advocacy organizations.”
Republicans on the committee saw it as a fatal character flaw.
“This is not normal practice in the professional world,” Committee Chairman Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, said. “Our vetting shows you are clearly a mouthpiece for other groups. You’re not putting your own intellectual property forward.”
Senators honed in on Serviss’ opening comments that she aimed to be a “credible source” for lawmakers via the Department of Housing. Senate Republicans found several examples of Serviss copying other organizations’ language in letters she had written, including taking a quote from a Bloomberg News story.
In one letter Serviss wrote in 2019 to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, senators found language taken from both Bloomberg and the Alaska Public Interest Research Group.
T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, said he was prepared to be the swing vote that would have recommended Serviss to the full Senate for confirmation, but the lifting of content from media organizations was too much for him.
“I’ve seen news media that covers us here be upset with other folks that do not spend their time here … that their articles are often lifted to describe the events that happen in this place,” Shope said. “The Bloomberg situation was a distinction for me.”
While she did admit to plagiarizing content in her former role due to the lack of staff to aid her, Serviss said the state Department of Housing is amply staffed.
Other policy advocates came to Serviss’ defense, saying they regularly advise organizations to use their language verbatim in communications.
Democrats on the commission defended the acting director, calling the attack on Serviss’ previous position unfair.
“We heard from a number of people from the advocacy community who indicated that not only was it accepted practice, it was in some cases preferred practice to use identical language when advocating for a particular issue,” said Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix.
Alson later issued a statement saying she had “never seen worse behavior than that which was displayed by Senator Hoffman today.”
Hobbs Spokesman Christian Slater later said on X, “it’s now very obvious that extremist Jake Hoffman and the DINO committee are interested in nothing more than playing political games and making a mockery of the nominee confirmation process.”
The committee doesn’t have the final say on Serviss’ tenure. She’ll need a simple majority of the state Senate to vote in favor of her confirmation.