Bill seeking to amend Arizona open meetings lacks political support

0225Ns News  Story (Open Meeting) FOR WEB

SB 1435 was a measure pursued at the Arizona Legislature no longer requiring cities and towns to include the public during non-decision-making meetings. (File Photo)

A proposed Senate bill seeking to amend the Arizona open meetings law and give local governing bodies added authority to meet in private is dead, according to Arizona Sen. John Kavanagh.

Senate Bill 1435 would have allowed governing bodies to exclude the public from meetings where no action was taken.

The bill had a first reading in the Arizona Senate and was a topic of discussion for agenda consideration of the government and rules committee chaired by Sen. Kavanagh.

Sen. Kavanagh’s office told Independent Newsmedia on Feb. 17 that due to a lack of support, SB 1435 will not be heard at the government and rules committee, which next meets Thursday, Feb. 19.

The deadline for new bills to be agendacized at the government and rules committee is Feb. 19, according to Sen. Kavanagh’s office.

The main sponsor of SB 1435 is Sen. Sylvia Allen, a Republican who represents Dist. 5 at the Arizona Legislature.

The bill proposed to amend the Arizona open meetings laws. The current law defines a meeting as “the gathering, in person or through technological devices, of a quorum of members of a public body at which they discuss, propose or take legal action, including any deliberations by a quorum with respect to such action.”

The amended definition would read, “the gathering, in person or through technological devices, of a quorum of members of a public body at which action is taken,” according to the proposed legislation.

As defined in the open meetings law, a public body includes the Arizona Legislature, county and city government, public school district governing boards and all their committees and subcommittees.

Valley constitutional attorney Dan Barr of the Perkins Coie law firm believes the bill is an attempt to gut the state’s open meetings law.

“The whole point of the open meetings law is to let the public witness the discussions and participate in the process,” he said.

The proposed bill, he says, would have been the same as prohibiting residents from watching a football game — but only giving them the final score.

“This is poor government because it is taking away the public’s ability to participate,” Mr. Barr said.

Local political leaders say lack of support prevented the bill from advancing any further.

“It is not a league issue,” said League of Arizona Cities and Towns Executive Director Ken Strobeck in a Feb. 17 phone interview. “We have not lobbied on it or even worked on it. This has not even crossed our threshold and it doesn’t seem to be moving forward.”

Virginia Korte

Virginia Korte

The issue was watched at the local level.

“I had heard rumors about it,” said Scottsdale Councilwoman Virginia Korte in a Feb. 17 phone interview. “I had great concern about the bill. Our citizenry is looking for more transparency — not less.”

Good government looks for ways to get citizens involved in the process, Councilwoman Korte contends.

“If our government is doing anything it should be working to promote transparency to provide better access to people who are making the decisions,” she explained. “We don’t need to cultivate distrust more than we have.”

Scottsdale Councilman Guy Phillips says he would like to see more efforts made to increase government transparency in all level s of local government.

“I have noticed the past few years there is less and less discussion on the regular agenda and more in the work session,” he said in Feb. 17 phone interview of the importance of including the general public on those preliminary municipal discussions.

“I have always been worried that we are trying to bypass the regular agenda and if it goes to consent, it is already a done deal. It might be easier for staff but that is not good process.”

Editor’s note: Independent Newsmedia News Editor Rusty Bradshaw contributed to this article and first reported this issue Thursday, Feb. 12

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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