Call to the Public decision postponed

KINGMAN - County residents won't get another chance to speak on the Call to the Public issue before the Mohave County Planning and Zoning Commission until January 2013. The commission voted 5-to-1 to postpone making a decision on the issue until the new Board of Supervisors was elected and a new commission appointed.

The commission removed the Call to the Public from its agenda in 2009. Many government boards hold a call to the public during their regular meetings, so residents can bring issues that are not on the agenda to the board's attention. Arizona Revised Statutes do not require a government board or commission to have a Call to the Public.

Commissioner Rick Sherwood, who is running for county supervisor, brought up the issue in February. It was discussed during the commission's March meeting, but continued to Wednesday's meeting to allow commissioners who were not at the meeting to voice their opinions.

Several residents came forward Wednesday to plead with the commission to return the Call to the Public to the commission's meeting.

"This is a method for the citizens to communicate with the (commission)," said John Hayes from Desert Hills. The Call is a way for the public to bring important matters to the commission's attention. It's a way to increase transparency in the government.

"This isn't directed at anyone directly," Hayes said. "It just makes good government."

Commission Chair Carl Flusche pointed out that the commissioners are not elected, but volunteers appointed by the Board of Supervisors. The commission only deals with land use issues.

Commission Vice Chair Mehdi Azarmi asked Hayes to give a specific example of an item he would bring to the commission during the Call to the Public.

Hayes struggled to give a specific answer, but suggested that a resident might have a question about zoning in their neighborhood that they could bring before the commission. It would depend on the situation, he said.

"It would just give me the opportunity to speak to you," he said.

Azarmi asked if there might be issues that Hayes might want to bring up that would be tied with an agenda item.

There could be, Hayes said.

Azarmi pointed out that the commission allows the public to sign up to speak on individual agenda items.

The Call to the Public is a good place for the public to give the commission an overview on a topic that might be impacting their community, said Elizabeth Barnett from Cedar Hills, east of Kingman. She suggested the commission do a three-month trial run and bring back the Call to the Public. It could put a time limit on how long people could speak, she said.

Golden Valley resident Steven Robinson identified himself as the District 2 director of the Republican Party representing 70 precinct committeemen. Out of all of the committeemen, only two have expressed objections to the Call to the Public, he said.

Robinson's story of a Golden Valley resident who lost his home business because the commission denied his request for a zoning use permit was cut off by a beep from the timer at the speaker's podium.

Robinson said there were at least four other people who were willing to cede their speaking time to him and asked the commission for an additional five minutes. Flusche limited him to two, despite the fact that earlier in the meeting a person was allowed to speak for more than 20 minutes on an agenda item.

All of the other counties in the state and the three major cities in Mohave County have a Call to the Public during their planning and zoning commission meetings, Robinson said. He pointed to the First Amendment right for the people to petition the government for redress of grievances. That's what the Call to the Public is, he said.

"This isn't a court where you can give people time. You're allotted two minutes and we're already into political stuff," Flusche said, as the next person, Louis Trenka, was making his way down the stairs to the speaker's podium.

Trenka said he and several others were told by staff that they could cede their time to Robinson.

"Yes, you're volunteers but you also represent the people. If we can't speak to you freely, and maybe have you look into a problem and direct us where to find the answer then what's the sense? We don't need you," he said. Let the people come in, speak to you and then guide them to the correct answers, Trenka said.

Azarmi asked if Trenka knew the scope of the commission's powers. He asked County Attorney Robert Taylor to explain the commission's powers to the audience.

The commission is an advisory body to the Board of Supervisors that is charged with advising the Board on land use issues with regard to the county's General Plan and land use ordinances, Taylor said. Its primary mission is to give a forum for parties that are requesting a change in land use designation or the General Plan to present their case.

The commission cannot pass legislation, but it can propose or suggest legislation in regard to land use, he said.

"A Call to the Public is something that is necessary for transparency in our government," Jim Consolato said. "You could say it's hearsay, but there's a great deal of suspicion and lack of trust. I would urge this commission to do whatever is possible to make this government transparent."

"I think the Planning and Zoning Commission is very transparent about everything we do. So I'm really confused about your comment," Flusche said. People are welcome to speak on any item on the agenda. When there was a Call to the Public, 99 percent of the topics that were brought up had nothing to do with land use items, he said.

Azarmi asked how the commission could be more transparent.

By reinstating the Call to the Public, Consolato said.

Azarmi asked for specifics.

Consolato said he didn't have a specific example. The best example might be the controversy over changes to the county's animal ordinances that erupted in 2009, he said.

Jeanne Kentch also spoke on the topic.

Azarmi asked if she was a candidate for the new District 5 seat of the Board of Supervisors.

When Kentch said yes, Azarmi pointed out that a lot of candidates for elected office were making the Call to the Public a political issue.

Mark Shaver, another resident, pointed out that when the Call to the Public was removed from the agenda in 2009, the public was told it was because commission meeting were running too long. Last month, the public was told it was because of inappropriate actions and name calling by some members of the public. He said he hadn't seen anything inappropriate.

Jim Kanelos reiterated many of Shaver's comments.

"To use a baseball metaphor, it's like you're taking the ball and bat and calling the game, because your feelings got hurt. Now none of us can play," he said.

Kentch wasn't the only candidate for the Board who spoke out during the meeting. Dave Calvi, who is running for the District 3 seat, said he agreed with the commission that discussions have gotten out of hand at the meetings sometimes, but it can't hurt to spend a few minutes listening to the public.

Azarmi pointed out again that the commissioners were volunteers and their duties were limited to land use issues, and that the Call to the Public issue should be taken to the Board of Supervisors.

Commissioner Joseph Morabito asked if anyone had contacted county staff about their zoning questions.

"To have a Call to the Public just so someone can say the sky is pink. We can't do anything about the sky being pink," he said. "The county has employees that can help you five days a week. You can visit with your Supervisor. (If you bring us a problem) you won't (be able) to get a solution from us, but if you bring it to your Supervisor they may be able to help."

Robinson, who was granted permission to speak again, pointed out that residents could go to staff but going through the commission put the issue on the record.

The commission then voted 5-to-1 to postpone making a decision on the issue until January.