Pima Co. supervisors to vote on time limits on call to public

Proposal to limit public comment
Proposal to limit public comment
Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 9:02 AM MST|Updated: Jun. 6, 2023 at 10:42 AM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - The Pima County Board of Supervisors is set to meet on Tuesday, May 6, and discuss an agenda item some in the community believe would take away their First Amendment rights.

The agenda item calls for discussion and action on a measure to revise Section K3 of the Rules and Regulations of the Board of Supervisors, which was originally put in place in December 2020.

If passed, item 19 will shorten the amount of time residents are allowed to speak during public comment and put a cap on how long the call to the public period can last.

“The purpose of a call to the public is for citizens to address the board on issues that are a concern to them,” Pima County, District One Supervisor, Rex Scott said.

Scott says the goal is to replace the existing rule which states:

“On Call to the Public, a person desiring to speak will address the Chair. Upon being recognized, the person will advance to the podium, state his/her full name, whom he/she represents, and state the subject matter.”

Pima County Board of Supervisors

and revise the rules to state:

“Call to the Public shall be scheduled for one hour each meeting unless extended by a majority vote of the Board of Supervisors. Speakers shall have three minutes to speak. However, for any meeting where 20 or more individuals have submitted speaker cards, each speaker’s time shall be limited to two minutes. During the Call to the Public segment of the agenda, a person desiring to speak shall address the Board. Upon being recognized, the person shall advance to the podium, state his/her full name, whom he/she represents, and state the subject matter.”

Pima County Board of Supervisors

However, many in the community disagree with the measure.

Dave Smith the Chairman of the Pima County Republican Party said by limiting the time, the board is censoring people’s opinions.

“Now it’s ⅘ Democrat, that is our board of supervisors, our only redress is to go and express ourselves in our call to the public,” Smith said.

However, Scott said this isn’t about silencing any person’s views but rather making sure meetings stay on track so everyone in the community benefits.

“To claim that this is some kind of free speech violation or attack on the First Amendment, again that is nothing but a political spin by people who have been using this time to further their own political ends,” Scott said.

Scott said the county is following other boards and governments by putting new rules in place that would limit the time during public comment and put a one-hour cap on total time for comment.

“Every other local government in the area the cities, the towns, the school district governing board and Pima Community College, all of them have a limit on the total amount of time devoted to comments,” Scott said.

Smith understands the frustration some board members have. However, he believes this is why public comment is permitted and is important people are allowed to present their ideas, issues, and policies they are concerned with.

“If you really care, you would be willing to express, debate and understand each other,” Smith said.

Smith said people should be open to expressing their opinions during this public forum and believes this item should not be approved by supervisors.

“That’s not happening when the board of supervisors shut down that debate,” Smith said. “We have really tried to focus our people to get right to the message, to read the agenda effectively and give a message that point is based on our perspective that our people bring. They are trying to suppress that.”

Smith believes communication is key and said the new rules are a way to stop certain people from certain political parties from speaking.

“They have no political power. They aren’t wealthy people. They can’t put up signs. They can’t run. They can only come and express their ideas,” Smith said.

Smith is encouraging concerned residents to speak out and contact supervisors, as he believes this is just the start of complete censorship.

“That is the idea of democracy,” Smith said. “When you talk about a representative of democracy the people get those minutes where they can come and express those views.”

Scott said the board isn’t trying to take away anybody’s speaking rights. He said the call to the public period should not be used as a vehicle for partisan political activity.

“What we have seen in recent months is our meeting being monopolized by one of our local political parties to get their messaging out,” Scott said. “That is inappropriate. We want to hear from the public, but it’s not a time to be monopolized by any one group.”

Scott believes the new time limits will allow even more people in the community to voice their opinions during meetings.

Scott said the board of supervisors has many other ways for people who live in Pima County to voice their opinion. He encourages anyone to attend or reach out to board members.

“The board wants to hear from everybody in the community,” Scott said. “The rules and regulations that we are hopefully going to be adopting tomorrow are going to allow for more people to be heard by the board.”

The Pima County Board of Supervisors will meet Tuesday, May 6, at 9 a.m. This is when county supervisors will vote to implement the new time limits.