Answer: Most city councils have chosen to provide some type of public comment period at their meetings. But the truth is that the Open Meeting Law does not give the public the right to speak at city council meetings. As a result, it’s up to individual cities to decide if and how the public can participate during a council meeting.
Public hearings are another story. The whole point of a public hearing (discretionary or required) is to provide an opportunity for the public to comment about a particular issue, and the role of city councilmembers is to respectfully listen. Councilmembers should not discuss issues among themselves or debate with the member of the public that provide input during a public hearing. It’s their time to shine.
There are some p’s & q’s for public meetings and hearings that can keep these important listening opportunities golden:
- The law doesn’t give members of the public the right to talk for however long or about whatever topic they want at public hearings or at a council meeting where public comment is permitted.
- City councils have authority to regulate their own procedure and can adopt reasonable parameters regarding public participation, such as regulations that limit the amount of time for each speaker and that require speakers to restrict their comments to issues relating to city business or to the public hearing at issue.
- Members of the public do not have the right to remain at council meetings or public hearings if they are disrupting the proceedings. For example, a Minnesota woman was recently convicted of disorderly conduct after police removed her from a city council meeting for being disruptive. When the woman arrived at the council meeting, she removed a chair from the public gallery, placed it directly in front of the council’s bench, and refused requests for her to move back to the public gallery.
Written by Susan Naughton, research attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or (651) 281-1232.
This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information.