What Is a "Call To the Public"?
1. A "Call To the Public" is a time set aside at a public meeting for you to address the public body on any issue within its jurisdiction.
-- ARS (Arizona Revised Statutes) Sec. 38-431.01(G) says "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."
-- If you want to speak, you will have to fill out a form beforehand. The form takes about a minute to fill out, and asks for your name, address, contact information, and subject of your remarks, and whether you are speaking for or against any particular item on the agenda.
-- The Planning & Zoning Commission gives you 5 minutes to speak. The Board Of Supervisors used to give you 5 minutes, but a former chairman reduced the time limit to 3 minutes, which was enforced variably, depending on whether or not the chair liked what he was hearing. Under the new chair, the Board may return to 5 minutes.
-- Notice that you are allowed to speak on issues within the public body's jurisdiction. In speaking before the Board Of Supervisors, all county business is proper to bring up.
-- You are addressing the public body itself, not the public in attendance, and not the county employees who are assisting at the meeting. Of course, if you think carefully about your remarks beforehand -- and obviously you should -- you can speak to the public body in a way that the general public will find interesting.
Some officials dislike the Call To the Public, because people often say what officials don't like to hear. Of course, what officials don't like to hear is often what they most need to hear. Current Board Chair Searle has moved the Call To the Public to the end of meetings. P&Z Commission Chair Karen Corey tested the waters & decided not to.
2. The public body is under no obligation to respond to what you say. Its members may respond, but are not required to.
-- ARS Sec. 38-431.01(G) says "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."
-- Notice that if more than one member of the public decides to speak during a Call To the Public, any response from the public body is supposed to wait until all of the public has finished speaking. Anybody on the public body who doesn't like something you said must wait his or her turn to speak; they can't bicker with you. Anybody on the public body who wants to agree with you or compliment you should just shut up; the statute only contemplates them responding to criticism, not wasting public time in agreeing with people who like them. Also, only members of the public body are supposed to respond to you; for instance, if, at a Board Of Supervisors meeting, you set out some wrongdoing by the Planning & Zoning Department, the statute allows a Supervisor to respond to you, but does not allow a Department staffer to argue with you. If the Board wants to hear argument on the matter, they should set the matter on a future agenda.
-- There is an Arizona law called the Open Meeting Law (the OML) -- discussed on a separate webpage: http://littlebigdog.net/OML.htm -- which, among other things, prevents items from being put onto meeting agendas without adequate notice to the public. So even if your statement points out something very important, unless your statement concerns something already on the agenda for that meeting, don't expect the public body to take any action on it right away. The most you can expect is for something to be put on the agenda of a future meeting. Almost certainly, you won't even get that unless you ask for it. If you want some specific action to happen, ask the public body for that specific action, and ask some member of the public body to put it on the agenda for another time!
-- In the very unlikely event that you have something to say that points out an actual emergency, the public body can call an emergency meeting on shorter notice to the public. This would have to be a real emergency: not just something that you think should be acted on fast, but something that will, for instance, cause the county to go bankrupt unless action is taken within 24 hours. Don't be upset because the public body disagrees with you about the existence of a real emergency.
3. You can find more guidance in a publication by Arizona's Attorney General called the Agency Handbook, available online at the following location:
The Agency Handbook amounts to a "how-to manual" for every public servant in Arizona. Every public servant in Arizona should be familiar with it, although you will probably find some in Cochise County who are not.
In the Agency Handbook, Section 7.7.7 concerns "Calls to the Public," and says: "In 2000, the Legislature clarified the limitations on open calls to the public during public meetings. A.R.S. Sec. 38-431.01(G) now provides that a public body may make an open call to the public to allow individuals to address the public body on any issue within the jurisdiction of the public body. Members of the public body may not discuss or take action on matters raised during the call to the public that are not specifically identified on the agenda. A.R.S. Sec. 38-431.01(G). Public body members may, however, respond to criticism made by those who have addressed the public body, ask staff to review a matter, or ask that a matter be put on a future agenda. Id. See also Ariz. Att'y Gen. Op. I99-006. The best practice is to include language similar to the following on the agenda to explain in advance the reason members of the public body cannot respond to topics brought up during the call to the public that are not on the agenda: 'Call to the Public: This is the time for the public to comment. Members of the Board may not discuss items that are not specifically identified on the agenda. Therefore, pursuant to A.R.S. Sec. 38-431.01(G), action taken as a result of public comment will be limited to directing staff to study the matter, responding to any criticism or scheduling the matter for further consideration and decision at a later date'."