Arizona Senate Committee Rejects Gov. Hobbs’ Nominee for Housing Department, Cites ‘Systemic’ Plagiarism

An Arizona State Senate panel rejected the nomination of Joan Serviss to run the Arizona Department of Housing in a 3-2 vote on Thursday, with Republican senators highlighting alleged “systemic” plagiarism by Serviss in letters she wrote to the federal government while working in advocacy.

Arizona State Senator Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek) provided three examples in which Serviss, nominated by Governor Katie Hobbs (D) to run the Arizona Department of Housing, appeared to blatantly plagiarize advocacy groups and the media while running the Arizona Housing Coalition.

Photo “Joan Serviss Speaking at Podium” by Arizona Department of Housing.

After Serviss offered opening remarks and received questioning from State Senators Lela Alston (D-Phoenix), Flavio Bravo (D-Phoenix), Justine Wadsack (R-Tucson), and T.J. Shope (R-Florance), Hoffman referenced a letter sent by Serviss in her former position at the Arizona Housing Coalition, a group she boasted of shepherding from one to 10 employees.

That letter contained six paragraphs, five of which Hoffman claimed were directly plagiarized from two other advocacy groups, one being non-profit supporting food banks in Washington state.

“It appears you copied and pasted without attribution,” said Hoffman, adding that “the only changes were minimal at best, and stylistic.” He questioned if Serviss considered her letter to be an example of plagiarism.

Rather than answering the accusation of plagiarism, Serviss claimed her actions were “a common practice among advocacy groups,” which she said often use “templates” and “shared language” in their letters.

Hoffman then raised a second letter, also featuring Serviss’s signature. In this document, he alleged that Serviss not only plagiarized the text of the letter but also lifted another organization’s biographical information and passed it off as her own.

Serviss again defended the letter’s borrowed content, claiming the Arizona Housing Coalition was part of a wider advocacy group with the alleged victims of the plagiarism, and thus they all used the same copy.

“Not to be glib,” Serviss told Hoffman, adding that she was “today years old when someone” suggested to her “this is an unaccepted practice.”

Finally, Hoffman offered a third letter sent by Serviss. In this letter, Hoffman said Serviss not only plagiarized from the Alaska Public Interest Research Group, but also “cribbed” quotes from Bloomberg and the American Banker blog, though he added that Serviss neglected to include Bloomberg‘s own attribution of a quote.

Serviss again defended this letter, saying she believed it was an acceptable practice to use all available resources when writing advocacy letters.

At one point, Hoffman raised two pages of one letter to the camera (pictured above), allowing viewers to see the highlighted portion he allegedly plagiarized by Serviss. He also said that the plagiarism was not limited to the three letters he raised but common in every document his office reviewed.

Ultimately, explaining his vote against her confirmation, Hoffman claimed she plagiarized entire pages worth of content from Bloomberg, concerned he may have implied she only plagiarized one sentence in his earlier denunciation.

Still, Bravo and Alston were not impressed by the plagiarism claims, with both claiming that direct copying of materials is common practice and may even be preferred in the public advocacy field.

In response to the revelation, Wadsack questioned the vetting processes of the Hobbs administration.

If Serviss’s copying is considered an acceptable practice, questioned Wadsack, then why didn’t the Hobbs administration “share that they were aware of the plagiarism?” Wadsack voted to reject the confirmation, explaining that “we are talking today about a massive agency, administering a huge budget.”

Shope called the hearing “excruciating,” and said he was leaning toward accepting the confirmation until hearing of the alleged plagiarism from Bloomberg.

Hoffman accused Serviss of being “a mouthpiece for other organizations,” primarily special interest groups, in her prior profession, claiming she “was simply an amplification tool” charged with “taking other people’s work, putting her logo on it, signing her name to it, so the federal government felt like” it was receiving more pressure than it was.

Hoffman blamed Hobbs for the public dressing down of Serviss, saying that “she’s the only one responsible for putting you in this position, because she did not do her job” of vetting her nominations.

Noting that Serviss promised to be a “credible and valid source” of information to the Arizona Legislature and the governor, Hoffman asked, “how can we expect we will get a credible and valid source to the legislature from Ms. Serviss” when she “doesn’t even trust herself.”

This is the second of Hobbs’ nominations to face trouble, with the former Arizona Department of Child Safety director resigning after a series of questionable behavior.

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Tom Pappert is the lead reporter for The Georgia Star News and a reporter for the Arizona Sun Times. Follow Tom on X/Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].

 

 

 

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