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They Told Us to Shut Up

They Told Us to Shut Up

It was big news when the Board of Supervisors voted to reduce the time for Call to the Public from three minutes per speaker to two. District 1 Supervisor Rex Scott told us how little he cares about our concerns at the meeting on June 6, 2023.

Misconstruing the Law Against Us

The far-left supervisors—including Rex Scott—asserted that the law gave them the right to silence dissenting voices in their meetings. That’s an ignorant misreading of the law at best, and a cunningly deceptive statement at worst. What law did they use to punish our neighbors who attended meetings to protest the county’s overbearing government?

The “sunshine law”, Arizona Revised Statutes §38-431.01.I. reads as follows:

A public body may make an open call to the public during a public meeting, subject to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions, to allow individuals to address the public body on any issue within the jurisdiction of the public body. At the conclusion of an open call to the public, individual members of the public body may respond to criticism made by those who have addressed the public body, may ask staff to review a matter or may ask that a matter be put on a future agenda. However, members of the public body shall not discuss or take legal action on matters raised during an open call to the public unless the matters are properly noticed for discussion and legal action.

These sunshine laws were never meant to limit citizens, but instead to foster transparency in government and to limit government from silencing its constituents.

But the Democrats on the Pima County Board of Supervisors worship at the altar of big government, and instead of approaching their duty as one of service to us, they elevated themselves above us and used these laws to shut us up.

The Proper Interpretation

The correct interpretation of the statute ensures that the Board cannot, for example, give notice late Saturday afternoon that they will hold a meeting Sunday morning at 3:30am in Sells where the public will have an opportunity to speak. The “reasonable time, place and manner restrictions” are restrictions on the government, meaning that the notice of the meeting must be far enough in advance for the citizens to find out about the meeting and make plans to attend (reasonable time), that the meeting must be accessible to all who would be interested in attending (reasonable place), and that the call must be public and readily disseminated instead of simply posted on a sticky note on an obscure bulletin board in a back hallway of the county offices (reasonable manner).

These are limitations on the government, not on the people. Only an overbearing and self-important board would twist this law so maliciously.

This is one of many things our current Board of Supervisors has done to its own shame since being sworn in.

So What’s Rex Scott’s Problem?

This was a hotly-debated item at the time, with our friends and neighbors appearing before the board to denounce the two changes Rex Scott requested: - Limit call to the public to a maximum of one hour, no matter how many people wish to speak, and - If there are more than twenty speakers, limit them all to two minutes.

And it passed, three to two.

Gallingly, part of Rex Scott’s specious argument in favor of this blatant lawfare was to list limits other boards place on their constituents. Again, this is an example of an elected official working for big government, not for us: The right thing for him to do would have been to have led Pima County as the standard-bearer, not to have hidden behind others in cowardice. Just because other boards misconstrue the law doesn’t mean Pima County can, too.

The Punchline

It is funny, though: every published agenda since last June contains the same statement as before, “PUBLIC PARTICIPATION SPEAKERS ARE LIMITED UP TO 3 MINUTES,” with the fine print coming later that there is now a one-hour cap and a possibility of a two-minute restriction.

This is no way for government to treat the public.

We really deserve better than this, and that’s why I’m running.

Photo by Pressmaster from Pexels: https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-with-megaphone-pointing-3851255/

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