City Hall

Phoenix Resident Wants Public Speakers Heard Before City Council Meetings Are Adjourned

A Phoenix resident is petitioning the City Council to allow members of the public to speak during the council's formal meetings instead of making them wait until the sometimes lengthy public sessions are over.

Dianne Barker, who first raised the issue in November, also would like to see the current two-minute talk time per person extended to three minutes.

"Phoenix is living in bygone years with an old ordinance that dismisses the public," Barker wrote in her petition to the city.

Barker's beef is that the public isn't given the podium until after City Council concludes its formal meeting.

Here's how it's worded on the council agendas: "A Citizen Comment Session is held on Wednesdays immediately following the formal City Council meetings."

Since the council meeting is over, she says, council members feel free to get up and leave without listening to the individuals who want to address them.

There are times when elected officials are getting up and walking out as members of the public are walking up to the podium to speak. And their concerns are heard by only a representative or two who have remained at the dais to listen.

Of course, the agenda does mention other ways for residents to be heard:

"If you have an individual problem involving the city, you are encouraged to contact your district council member at 602-262-7029 or the City Manager's Office at 602-262-4449. To reach the Mayor's Office, call 602-262-7111. We will do everything possible to be responsive to your individual requests."

What Barker wants is "the public to have its rightful place on the formal agenda," ideally at the beginning of the meeting.

City officials surveyed 43 Arizona cities, towns, and public bodies to see how they handled public comments.

They found that 11 out of the 43 public entities hold public comment at the end of their meetings. Among them are the cities of Peoria, Mesa, and Tempe -- but the public is heard before elected officials adjourn the meeting.

Most, about 55 percent, allow the public to address the council at the beginning of the meeting.

An interesting tidbit that came out of Phoenix's review of how other cities handle public comments is that Prescott officials make would-be public speakers jump through hoops.

There, individuals have to fill out a comment card, which is copied and distributed to the entire council. Then, if at least two council members or the mayor grant approval, the persons gets a place on an upcoming meeting agenda.

Barker's petition will be considered by the City Council during its January 15 meeting.