By A.J. Flick
Even before the pandemic, there was a quiet revolution brewing among some Pima County constables, particularly how eviction notices are handled, which inspired former hydrologist Kristen Randall to run for constable.
Constable Bennett Bernal led the revolution of “rebel constables.”
“He told me there was a different way to do the job. He laid it out: ‘There’s the old way, a very law enforcement way to serve papers, but that’s not the way I do it,’ ” Randall told DGT members during the March 15 meeting.
State law guides constables in their duties, Randall said, but within the legal framework, there is some room “for us to do things in a better way.”
For instance, Randall, Bennett, and former Constable Joe Ferguson –the “rebel constables” – added an extra step that gives tenants days to prepare to leave their homes instead of minutes. The constables also hired a social worker to connect tenants to community resources.
These changes highlight the importance of “down-ballot” voting, Randall said (voting all the way down the ballot).
“Pay attention to the JP (Justice of the Peace) and constable races,” she said. “It matters whom you vote for.
“Who the constable is matters,” Randall said. “Statute does dictate what they do, but what their values are tells you what more they can do, what more they can do to serve the community.
“Consider running for constable. Give us a run for our money. Pay attention to judges, too,” she added.
Randall, a native New Yorker, and mother of two children ages 19 and 5, said community activism led to her politics. A friend suggested she run, and Constable Mary Dorgan’s resignation in 2019 gave her the opportunity.
Constables are elected to four-year terms in local justice precincts. Randall represents Justice Precinct 8 in Midtown. Constables enforce judgments from Pima County Consolidated Justice Court and serve paperwork for evictions, orders of protection, civil summons, and subpoenas.
“We’re grappling with really different issues during the pandemic,” Randall said, stressing that many festering issues were made worse by the pandemic.
Thanks to the city, constables were given Section 8 vouchers, Randall said, to get more tenants into affordable homes. County supervisors provided money to give tenants representation and hotel vouchers.
A pandemic moratorium on evictions helped tenants, but an “eviction tsunami,” so named by state Sen. Kirsten Engel, could hit Pima County as landlords who withheld evictions might flood an already overloaded system. There are some 4,376 outstanding eviction orders poised to be served once the moratorium ends. Randall estimated that number could go as high as 30,000 once landlords unload their backlog on the court.
Randall and Bennett (Ferguson lost his race last year) are reaching out to tenants seeking CDC eviction prevention and helping them notify landlords and sign up for county and city prevention programs. They also are working with the county and city to disburse $31 million in rental assistance from the federal government.
“We could do better to address issues,” Randall said.