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Pima County to discuss new rules for in-person meetings

Published: Oct. 18, 2021 at 8:35 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Pima County Board members will discuss how to handle the ‘call to the public’ when it resumes in-person meetings.

No date has been set for that but face-to-face will resume at some time and because of a lack of decorum over mask and vaccine mandates, the county is concerned about what might happen when the public gets its three minutes at the microphone to say whatever might be crossing their minds.

“We will for public safety reasons be enforcing a masking policy in the boardroom for the public,” said District 2 Supervisor Matt Heinz.

It’s that masking policy that might cause some issues here as it has in meetings all across the country.

A mask mandate is a challenge some people just can’t pass up.

Even before the county began to hold its meetings virtually a year and a half ago, there was some serious pushback from some people in the community.

The owner of a local coffee shop who was vehemently opposed to a mask mandate for his business was handcuffed and led out of the hearing room following a profanity-laced outburst.

Forcing everyone in the boardroom, including the supervisors themselves, to wear a mask is likely to raise some hackles.

So where to draw the line?

“It’s good to have a discussion,” said District 5 Supervisor Adelita Grijalva. “The community has a right to speak to the board, they do. I just don’t want them to say things that are racist, slanderous or personal attacks.”

Grijalva has the added experience of being chair of the Tucson Unified School District Board which has in-person meetings but with a mask mandate.

“There’s many times people come to the call to the audience that are spewing misinformation on a variety of issues and I listen respectfully,” Grijalva said. “That’s what I expect them to do if it’s something I want to address at a later point.”

But for Heinz, a medical professional, having people spew misinformation or disinformation, is personal.

“It’s not a platform for extremists to disrupt governance and to use it to get their completely dangerous and factually inaccurate message out there,” Heinz said.

His concern is that people will disseminate bad health advice which others might follow at their peril.

“It will potentially threaten the lives of the public and result in people dying who choose not to get the vaccine as a result of having this misinformation at our board meeting,” he said. “We can’t have that.”

But the rules of call to the public are firmly entrenched. The board members’ job is to listen, not argue or point out inaccuracies.

“You can’t use inappropriate language, you can’t be swearing at others in the call to the public to the board, members of the staff,” Heinz said. “You can’t scream at us.”

However the board decides, if they need new rules or not, it will need to be done with free speech rules in mind.

The board meeting, held virtually, of course, begins at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 19.

Copyright 2021 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.