Two legislators have asked state Attorney General Terry Goddard to clarify whether the Arizona Open Meetings Law bars government officials from talking to news media prior to a vote.
Reps. Steve Gallardo and David Lujan, both D-Phoenix, disagree with attorneys for several Valley school boards and city councils who have advised officials not to speak to the media about matters their respective boards might act on.
That includes the Scottsdale City Council, to which City Attorney Deborah Robberson gave that advice during ethics training last month.
Gallardo said the law isn’t meant to silence government officials.
“That was never intended by the Open Meetings Law,” he said. “I totally disagree with what’s going on in the city of Scottsdale in terms of not talking to the media.”
Andrea Esquer, spokeswoman for Goddard, said her office had no official response yet to an Oct. 4 letter from Gallardo and Lujan asking for a clarification.
“We just received it,” she said.
Gallardo said, “We would anticipate some type of opinion soon, I hope.”
Lujan said the Open Meetings Law is designed to prevent board members from colluding in secret prior to a vote.
Discussing policy issues with the media means that decisions aren’t being made in the dark, he said.
“I think it’s different when you’re talking to the media because by its very nature the media is a public thing,” Lujan said.
The Scottsdale City Council is not alone in having received advice to stop speaking to the media.
In January, the Scottsdale Unified School District governing board was told telling the public through the newspaper how it might vote could violate the Open Meetings Law.
The attorney general’s office, which investigates Open Meetings Law violation complaints, last issued an opinion on the subject in July 2005.
That opinion concluded that e-mails between council members could lead to violations of the law, but there was nothing to address the issue of an elected official disclosing a planned vote through the media or other public avenue.
Generally, the law states a majority of council members or school board members cannot meet or communicate about an upcoming vote outside of a posted public meeting.