/ Modified apr 6, 2023 8:22 a.m.

Tucson woman challenges "ban" by Pima County

County says it can exclude people who slander board members.

Requard-Heinz Shirley Requard displays a "Resign Heinz" sign at a Pima County Board of Supervisors meeting on February 21, 2023, as supervisor Matt Heinz watches (lower right).
Screenshot/Pima County via YouTube

A Pima County woman is challenging Pima County's decision to ban her from attending public meetings of the Board of Supervisors. She might have state law on her side.

Shirley Requard, who describes herself as a retired nurse and ordained chaplain, was a regular speaker during the Call to the Public segment at the Board's meetings. Not anymore. For the last month she's been relegated to sitting in the lobby.

Call to the Public is where ordinary citizens can sign up to give a short speech on any topic they want. It doesn't have to be something on the agenda, and the speaker doesn't even have to be a constituent. Basically anyone with something to get off their chest can fill out a form, wait their turn, and give their elected representatives a piece of their mind for up to 3 minutes.

Recent examples include multiple speakers decrying the county's use of machines to count ballots, others condemning supervisors for mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for county employees, speakers on all sides of the abortion debate, and occasional evangelicals who implore the board members to accept Jesus as their savior.

Over the last few months though, Call to the Public has basically gone off the rails.

Things hit bottom on January 24th, when Democrat Adelita Grijalva took over as chair of the board. Grijalva immediately set out to make her mark by trying to reign in one of the board's most frequent and outspoken critics, Tucsonan Stephanie Kirk.

When Grijalva asked Kirk to tone down her fiery speech Kirk responded, "You are literally nobody Adelita. Keep your mouth shut." The heated argument ended with Grijalva turning off Kirk's microphone and calling a 20-minute recess.

When the meeting resumed, it was Requard's turn to speak. She called for an investigation of board member Matt Heinz.

Heinz drew national attention when he joined the January 10 board meeting remotely, using a webcam from his cabin on a cruise ship. An unidentified man in a skimpy bathing suit briefly appeared in the background before Heinz cut off the video feed.

Requard taunted Heinz over the incident at multiple board meetings. On January 24 she charged, without evidence, that the unidentifed man was a minor and Heinz should be investigated.

"Taking a cruise is one thing. Taking a cruise with an unsupervised young male who proceeds to parade into a state room wearing women's panties..." she said, before being cut off by Grijalva.

Requard continued to taunt Heinz at every board meeting until February 24, when she said, "I was threatened by Adelita Grijalva that she would have me arrested if I mentioned the word pedophile once again... Well, pedophile, pedophile, pedophile!"

Requard turned toward the audience and held up a sign with the words "RESIGN HEINZ" as a few people applauded.

A few days later, the Pima county attorney's office sent her a letter saying she'd been banned from attending county board meetings for ninety days, and she could be banned even longer if she kept making "personal or slanderous" comments about board members.

According to the Board's Rules and Regulations, published in 2020, speakers who make "personal, impertinent, or slanderous remarks" can be ordered removed, and "such person may be barred from further audience before the board."

Republican Supervisor Steve Christy sought out a legal opinion about the ban of Shirley Requard. Attorney Thomas Denker wrote that it is likely illegal under Arizona open meeting law, and unconstitutional as well.

The Arizona Ombudsman's Office, an independent agency of the legislature, appears to back up Thomas Denker's conclusions. According to a fact sheet called "Open Meeting Law 101," the public has a right to attend, listen to, and record public meetings.

That would appear to contradict Pima County's policy of barring a person from attending.

The fact sheet also says any restrictions "must be narrowly tailored to affect a compelling state interest and may not be content based." (emphasis added)

That might prevent Pima County from forbidding what it calls "personal, impertinent, or slanderous remarks."

The ombudsman also says the public has no right to speak at or disrupt public meetings, and in fact the law doesn't even require the Board of Supervisors or any other body to hold a Call to the Public.

Supervisor Christy wants the board to address the Thomas Denker letter. Deputy County Attorney Sam Brown recommended having that conversation in private, but Christy insisted on making it public.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors will take up the matter at its meeting Tuesday morning, starting at 9:00. Board meetings are streamed on the county's YouTube channel.

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