Sad and disturbing – what it is like to witness our greatest national right of free speech steadily under attack by the current leader of Pima County Board of Supervisors, Chair Adelita Grijalva. Her efforts to erode citizens’ right to address their elected officials began during the January 24 Board of Supervisors meeting, at the time set aside for attendees to voice their concerns, the “Call to the Public”.
In her first meeting holding the gavel, Chair Grijalva completely disregarded the rules, the tradition, and the implicit understandings of the Call to the Public, and instead turned the session into an unmitigated fiasco, with threats galore, and statements deemed “uncivil” and against “community norms”. Chair Grijalva repeatedly interrupted a speaker, adjourned the meeting, and ordered the Supervisors into a conference room for a prolonged discussion. Chair Grijalva’s actions that day fanned the flames of an already ignited issue.
This all started more than a year ago; and the true blame for the hubbub over the Call to the Public lays at the feet of Supervisor Matt Heinz. It was he who tossed a lit match when he purposely interrupted and shouted down a speaker who was explaining her objections to the COVID mandates imposed by the Supervisors. Heinz ignored the repeated admonishments from the then Chair to halt his disruptions.
At the next Board meeting, which was virtual, another citizen expressed similar views against COVID mandates and again, Heinz interrupted, this time by childishly holding up signs with pejoratives written boldly. Several Board meetings later, Heinz further clashed with a citizen while she was speaking, demanding time to respond to her “misinformation”.
After the muddled effort to stop free speech during the January 24 meeting, Chair Grijalva next attempted to control what is placed on the Board’s meeting agenda, requiring that all items be first approved by the Clerk of the Board, then by the County Attorney, and then finally by her; an opaque process that, fortunately, the Board wisely rejected.
Chair Grijalva’s latest attempt to control free speech was the most egregious yet. She directed the Board’s County Attorney to bar and “exclude”, for three months, a citizen for “making personal or slanderous remarks” regarding Heinz. The citizen’s comments addressed Heinz’s infamous cruise ship incident when his scantily clad friend appeared on screen during a Board meeting that Heinz was attending virtually. The speaker questioned the age of the friend, offered her opinion as a retired nurse, and asked if the friend listened to the Board’s private Executive Session.
Rather than own his words and actions, Heinz has cloaked and deflected by labeling any statements made that he disagrees with as “hate speech.” His willing accomplice, Chair Grijalva has not taken Heinz to task for his poor behavior and interruptions, instead defending and portraying him as a victim.
During our most recent meeting, Chair Grijalva moved the Call to the Public to the agenda’s end, under the guise of having to “leave the meeting early”, then remained until she gaveled the meeting. Speakers expressed frustration over being unable to comment on agenda items before we cast our votes.
In response to the Chair and County Attorney’s actions, my office obtained an outside legal opinion about the citizen being “excluded” from our meetings and its language is precise; such exclusion is “unlawful both under Arizona statute and under the court’s interpretation of the United States Constitution.” A discussion of this legal opinion is on the April 4 Board meeting agenda. Given the Chair’s escalating efforts to restrict the speech of citizens and Supervisors, this item must not be considered behind closed doors.
The Call to the Public is the purest form of democracy and forum for citizens to address their elected officials. It is imperative that a discussion of how we conduct the Call to the Public occur in full view of our community.