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Demand more accessible Phoenix City Council meeting times
May 20 @ 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
City Council Formal meetings (even virtual ones) are on Wednesdays at 2:30 p.m. Policy meetings, during which the council hashes out everything it votes on during the formal meeting, are on Tuesdays at 2:30 p.m.
If those times prevent you from commenting on issues that include zoning matters, utility rates, municipal budget items like police and fire retirement funds, trash and sewer service and basically everything that impacts your household budget and daily life, you’re going to want to submit a comment to the Land Use and Livability subcommittee on Wednesday, May 20 meeting at 10 a.m.
TO VIRTUALLY “ATTEND” AND COMMENT ON THIS MEETING YOU MUST REGISTER AT LEAST AN HOUR BEFORE THE MEETING (BY 9 A.M.)
**Per the most recent social distancing guidelines from the federal government, no residents will be allowed to attend the meeting in-person.**
Register online by visiting the City Council Meetings page on phoenix.gov at least 1 hour prior to the start of this meeting.
Then, click on this link at the time of the meeting and join the Webex to speak: https://phoenixcitycouncil.webex.com/phoenixcitycouncil/onstage/g.php?MTID=ea5a1b518d235d80ba4f824873adc407c
Register via telephone at 602-262-6001 at least 1 hour prior to the start of this meeting, noting the item number.
Then, use the Call-in phone number and Meeting ID listed above at the time of the meeting to call-in and speak.
Last year I submitted a citizen’s petition to split City Council meetings into administrative and constituent sessions, the main idea being that issues important to voters would be heard in the evening after work and routine administrative items would be heard during the day.
Federal meetings are held in the evening specifically to allow public engagement, as are most school board, library district, and civic organization meetings.
To its credit, the Land Use and Livability subcommittee directed the clerk’s office to look into the issue and the clerk’s office even had a meeting with myself to discuss the “challenges” of doing so. Some effort was clearly made to understand the issue and let me air my grievances. Or humor the civic participant equivalent of the old man who yells at cloud. At any rate, we met, we chatted, notes were duly taken.
The city clerk’s office did some additional research and has written a report that can be found here along with my petition: https://bit.ly/2yZbvU5
The report essentially concludes everything’s fine for the following reasons:
The report’s findings, paraphrased, seem to be:
There have been lots of people who’ve participated from February 2019-20! (Paraphrase)
Never mind the hot-button issues like the police oversight committee or airport ride-sharing that likely inflates these numbers. Or the lack of demographic information.
What people participated, exactly? Retirees? People on salary who set their own hours? How many of those people had to use PTO or lost work wages or shifts to participate? Are participants truly representative of the diverse population of the city? Or merely those with the luxury of participating? The core issue my petition aims to address remains: The luxury of being able to attend an afternoon is a hallmark of social stratification and one the city has the ability to address. The people who need the opportunity to advocate for themselves or others the most are frequently not able to due to economic pressures, workplace constraints and transportation access.
The city had evening meetings before in 2015 but not a lot of people participated.
The right and practical ability to address one’s elected representative is not like a workplace PTO policy or a streaming service movie rental; you don’t lose it if you don’t use it within a certain amount of time. Furtherer, it does expand and contract in ratio to volume of usage, either. The practical ability to attend a public meeting should exist as a matter of course in perpetuity for reasons I sincerely hope are unnecessary to articulate.
Still, as an example, I have a right to free speech that allows me to blog about my dislike of broccoli. My choice not to use my free speech in this way does not mean, however, I no longer have the right rail against cruciferous plants. The right (and responsibilities; I allow I can’t incite a mob to burn down a broccoli farm) to free speech still exists for me to use, or not use, whenever and if ever I see fit.
The same is true for the number of participants. Even if only one single person ever actually attends a council meeting that does not diminish the city’s obligation to ensure as many people as possible can on a practical and realistic level attend a meeting.
Oddly, another sticking point is “that finding a single time that works for everyone is challenging,” according to the clerk’s subsequent report.
Fortunately, I never asked that the time accommodate every single one of Phoenix’s 5 million-plus residents; just the vast majority who are unable to attend meetings (even virtually) at 2:30 p.m.
Of course, not everyone can attend every meeting; the goal here is simply more people being able to attend.
This includes people who work graveyard shifts, like police officers, firemen, or hospital workers who sleep during the day. People who have 30-minute lunches during the day or who work on the outer fringes of the city and have a long drive home (or, should in-person meetings ever resume, to downtown). I suspect there are large working swaths of Phoenicians who would like to attend meetings but can’t. It’s not all or nothing.
Again, we are faced with a startling lack of demographic data to effectively assess this facet of the issue. If the city will deny residents evening meetings, particularly after the zeitgeist of electoral and civic participation seen since 2016, it should produce quantifiable data that is less than five years old to do so.
The report also says other big cities like L.A. and Chicago have day time meetings.
Well, great for them, but shouldn’t Phoenix proudly strive to do better? We don’t live in those cities; we live here. Civic engagement is not a sport in which city councils serve as competing teams in a tournament; the performance of other cities in this area is simply not relevant to our own. Houston’s city council does not determine my utility rates. It’s one thing to look at other municipalities for guidance but we don’t have to emulate them to be successful. In fact, in this case in particular, the city could have smug bragging rights and engage in civic virtue signaling.
Also cited are the city’s many auxiliary meetings, like village planning meetings and community meetings to garner input on utility rate changes. And yes, those are great ways for residents to become informed about those issues and should continue. But at the end of the day, THE DECIDING VOTE IS CAST BY THE COUNCIL DURING ITS FORMAL MEETING. Let’s be honest – it’s the one that matters.
How many people go to evening village planning meetings after working hard in good faith to organize their neighbors only to discover that 1.) the committee’s vote is a non-binding recommendation and 2.) the binding vote will be held during the day, when they can’t participate? They often feel a bit cheated, and rightly so.
This is a core motivation for the way my plan separates zoning decisions into their own meetings held during the evening.
Also, the report states Phoenix’s meetings are much longer than its peer cities’ meetings, using agenda items to compare lengths. This is math washing the issue.
First, most of the items are “consent items” as I call them, meaning one vote approves a slew of routine administrative items such as liquor licenses. My plan makes this section of the agenda essentially its own meeting (which would, in turn, make the proposed evening meeting shorter). The people who need their paid for liquor licenses and contracts approved have no impact from the meeting time change, but people who want to comment on things like utility rate hikes don’t have to sit through it, either.
The percentage of consent agenda items on average, and that compared with those on other cities’ agendas, is unclear, so the number of items on agendas is essentially meaningless as a measurement.
And, let’s just be honest here: of course, Phoenix’s meetings are longer, we’re a larger city in every respect. Hardly indicative of, well, anything really.
Another reason: Potential cost increase
Governments should aim for fiscal responsibility in many areas, including contracts and purchases. However, a city’s services and governance duties shouldn’t be run like a business with a cost-benefit analysis as the deciding factor. The privatization of public services such as transportation and postal service, along with the misguided notion these services should generate a profit, is one of the most corrosive notions in modern governance.
Giving people the right to address their elected officials is a primary, if not foundational, duty of the government. Cost is not the primary factor to consider in delivering this duty. To be clear, I’m not saying serve caviar during the meetings or pay for a solid gold mayoral gavel, but keeping the lights on, paying the security guards and staff overtime, etc. has already essentially been paid for with that year’s budget approval. If that cost is not allocated, it should be as a matter of course.
But OK, let’s follow this one to its logical end which is that product provided to the customer is democracy. Any additional cost to provide more product and serve more customers becomes the cost of doing business, like renting retail space or having inventory. In this case, it’s the salary for city staffers and/or the utility bill to keep the lights on in chambers.
Interestingly, the report boasts of meetings taking place past 5 p.m. But if meetings have already lasted past 5 p.m. the “additional cost” becomes unclear; the length of the meetings, and ostensibly cost, remains the same, it has just shifted a bit later. Though if the consent agenda were split out, again, it wouldn’t be that much later because that would be a shorter meeting anyway.
COVID-19 forced new tech options to submit comment (prior to the pandemic, the report just said the state Legislature’s RTS system couldn’t be duplicated so….oh well?).
This is a good thing and I have no complaints. It will undoubtedly increase accessibility for those with access to technology and reliable internet access and many people with disability issues. It is not,