Every American has a First Amendment right to petition government about specific grievances. It’s a precept of representative government as fundamental as freedom of speech and the right to worship as we choose. But the right to petition has meaning only if government honestly listens to what we have to say.
For that reason alone, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors should set aside any personal distaste or political favoritism and grant critics of Sheriff Joe Arpaio an opportunity to air their complaints before the full board in a public forum.
A protest group called Maricopa Citizens for Safety and Accountability says it has concrete concerns about operations at the sheriff’s office that the board might be able to address as holders of the county purse strings. The board should take 10 minutes at a future meeting to see if the group’s complaints have any real merit.
But the Board of Supervisors doesn’t have to open its doors to a circus or raucous shouting matches. And that means “leaders” of the protest group such as Phoenix lawyer Randy Parraz need to start acting like adults with serious problems to discuss instead of spoiled children throwing tantrums because they can’t sit at the table with the big people.
As the Tribune’s Paul Giblin reported last week, the Board of Supervisors had to re-vote on several county matters after a previous meeting slipped into a violation of the state Open Meetings Law when security guards and sheriff’s deputies illegally denied most people access to the meeting room for about 90 minutes.
That mistake started when Parraz had to be legally escorted out of the supervisors’ auditorium because he was shouting and disrupting the meeting. Parraz did it again Monday, angry that the supervisors weren’t allowing the public to comment on a re-vote to cancel the sheriff’s contract with Guadalupe. This time, Parraz was escorted from the room and then later arrested when he allegedly failed to follow a deputy’s directive outside.
We think it’s bad government policy to not accept public comment at every possible opportunity. But Parraz knows well his rights under state law and the Constitution, and he knows the proper means to assert them. Shouting and carrying on in defiance of public meeting decorum isn’t on the list.