Petitioner To Phoenix Council: Public Comment Is 'Not Use It Or Lose It'

Published: Thursday, May 28, 2020 - 5:05am
Updated: Thursday, May 28, 2020 - 7:39am

As cities work to reopen their parks and libraries, they’re also evaluating public meetings. Some city councils continue to meet in-person while others work remotely. At least one Phoenix resident thinks the city should rethink its meeting times.

Three months before COVID-19 changed the world, Christina Eichelkraut wanted to change city hall. 

“The right to address your elected official is not like PTO or an Amazon video rental — it’s not use it or lose it,” she said. “You don’t lose it just because you haven’t used it.”

Last December, she petitioned Phoenix leaders to make council meetings more accessible in hopes of increasing public participation. Since late March, Phoenix has been holding meetings online and accepting public comments by phone and email. Last week, Eichelkraut acknowledged the outreach but told the city’s Land Use and Livability Subcommittee that Phoenix needs to move council meetings from afternoons to evenings. 

“At the end of the day the meeting that counts is the meeting where the vote happens,” she said.

Eichelkraut wants contested items — like controversial zoning requests — to be heard separately at night, but City Clerk Denise Archibald told the subcommittee that staff doesn’t recommend it. 

“That’s exactly the challenge: how to determine whether something is contested or not contested ... also for transparency as it relates to the method by which staff would have to try and determine whether something is contested or uncontested and the public not being privy to that,” she said.”

According to a staff report to the subcommittee, peer cities in Arizona typically hold evening meetings while, in general, the nation’s largest cities tend to have longer agendas and meet during the day.

The report also said over the years the council has adjusted meeting times in response to input, including holding separate zoning meetings in the evenings and starting formal council meetings at 5 p.m. However, “the diversity of stakeholder needs in a large city is so great that finding a single time that works for everyone is challenging.”

In 2015, the council consolidated all items onto its formal meeting agenda with the current start time of 2:30 p.m. with zoning items at the end of the end of the formal agenda.

Subcommittee Chair Debra Stark said she would talk to the mayor about potentially holding a council meeting on the topic.