There are many ways to engage with Flagstaff’s elected officials -- whether that’s submitting a comment to the city council, staying up to date on upcoming decisions or tuning in to weekly public meetings.
Changes to the city’s public meeting format have been brought on by the ongoing pandemic, and officials want to make sure citizens have the latest information on the public engagement process.
Flagstaff City Councilmember Adam Shimoni and city clerk Stacy Saltzburg sat down Monday for a live discussion on how to be an “informed and engaged citizen.” Here is what they had to say:
Submitting a comment to city council
The public has a few options when it comes to making their voices heard to the city council, one of which is submitting a written comment for the record.
“Written comments are for folks who maybe can’t attend a council meeting or they are just not comfortable speaking in front of an audience. So we provide an opportunity for them to share their thoughts on matters in a written way,” Saltzburg said.
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If attending a city council meeting in person, the public has the option to write and submit a public comment using blue comment cards located at the back of the council chambers, Saltzburg explained. The physical written comments will then be circulated to the councilmembers during the meeting.
Another way to submit a comment for the official record is to send the city council a comment through email. Written comments for a specific meeting should be sent to the public comment email (email@example.com), Saltzburg said.
“Those comments are incorporated into the official record of the city for the minutes that are generated for that meeting,” Saltzburg said.
In addition to written comments, the public has the ability to provide verbal comments during weekly city council meetings either on specific agenda items or pertaining to an unrelated manner.
Those wanting to make a verbal comment while physically attending a city council meeting are asked to fill out a yellow comment card located at the back of the chambers. The card should be submitted to the city clerk on duty, after which verbal commenters will be called to speak during the meeting.
Similar to submitting a written comment virtually, the public can now make verbal comments to the council remotely. Located at the top of the weekly city council agenda is a link that the public can use to join a virtual comment waiting room. Once inside, staff will provide further instruction.
“As your item that you might want to speak on comes up for discussion, you will interact with our moderator that is there and we will let you know when it is your time to speak,” Saltzburg said.
The public is limited to three minutes to speak while making a verbal comment to Council. Verbal comments addressing a specific agenda will be taken at the time when the item is discussed. Otherwise, all other comments will be heard at the beginning of city council sessions.
“You are welcome to give a public comment on anything you would like to share, and that's at the very beginning of meetings,” Shimoni said.
As an elected official in Flagstaff, Shimoni explained from his own experience the ability the public has to have an impact on city council decisions.
“As a councilmember, I can tell you firsthand that I have witnessed the influence of one public commenter on our decisions time and time again,” Shimoni said. “Often you will see that your comments will sway the decisions of your electeds.”
Outside of public comments, the public can email Council at firstname.lastname@example.org. Email's sent to this address will reach all of the city’s elected officials, including the mayor, vice mayor and city councilmembers.
Attending a city council meeting
City council meetings take place Tuesdays at Flagstaff City Hall at 3 p.m. and are open to the public to attend. Current city guidelines have limited seating in the council chambers and those in attendance will be required to wear a mask.
Up-to-date information on the current public health restrictions and more is made available to the public through the city’s website (flagstaff.az.gov) by navigating to the "government" tab and selecting the “City Council Meeting Information” option.
The webpage contains instructions on how to access different information pertaining to city council meetings, including links to weekly agendas, the public comment process and the city’s working calendar.
“This page is really a great central location to find anything you might need for city council meetings,” Saltzburg said.
The working calendar is a document used internally by the city to schedule agenda topics for future meetings. It includes the date of scheduled meetings along with the topics that will be addressed.
When looking for a the date of a specific council discussion, checking the working calendar is a great option, Saltzburg said. She noted, however, that the documents may see slight changes on a day-to-day basis.
The “City Council Meeting Information” page also includes a link to a livestream of the meetings. In August, the city transitioned to a hybrid format for public meetings allowing viewers to see participants both present in the council chambers and attending virtually in the online meeting room.
Before attending a meeting, Saltzburg said, it can be helpful to view the meeting agenda. Agendas for regular city council meetings and work sessions are posted the preceding week at city hall and on the city's website. All notices are posted at least 24 hours prior to the meeting in accordance with state law.
After a meeting concludes, a video recording of the meeting is posted to the meeting agenda on the city’s website. To access the agenda for a specific meeting, users can navigate to the “Agendas & Minutes” tab of the “City Council Meeting Information” page.
The meeting agenda not only provides the public with a general overview of what will be discussed during a meeting, but offers additional information on specific items. By clicking on an individual agenda item, users are able to access a snapshot from city staff.
The snapshot includes links to all the information councilmembers were provided ahead of the discussion, including city staff presentations and documents, Saltzburg said. If there is recommended action city staff have provided, it will also be listed under the agenda item.
Saltzburg said the posted meeting agendas are not only a “great way to access information,” but can be useful when following along during a meeting.