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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Update on PAC Opinions Regarding Public Comment at Meetings

A little more than three years ago, we published a blog post summarizing some of the Public Access Counselor (PAC) opinions interpreting the public comment provision of the Open Meetings Act (section 2(g)). The post referenced an article published in the Illinois Municipal Review magazine (authored by Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink), and was based on all of the opinions (binding and advisory) that had been issued to-date at that time. You can re-read the 2014 post here.  

The 2014 blog post provided a "top 10" list of the PAC opinions by category/topic, as follows:

1. Public comment must be provided at all meetings.
2. The public comment requirement applies to subsidiary bodies.
3. Each public body must adopt rules for public comment.
4. A public body can establish time limits for public comment.
5. A public body can limit comments to topics germane to the agenda of a special meeting.
6. A public body can establish and enforce rules on decorum.
7. Public comment can be provided at any point in the meeting.
8. Public officials are not obligated to respond to questions.
9. The public comment rule does not address conduct of members of the public body.
10. There is no violation of the OMA if there is no request to speak.

Recently, we filed a FOIA request with the PAC to obtain copies of all opinions issued since the IML article and blog post were published. We have read through these opinions, and offer a few additional guidelines/tips for complying with the public comment requirement.

In addition to the 10 compliance tips listed above, here are a few additional guidelines public bodies can take from more recent PAC opinions on public comment:

1. The PAC has no authority to weigh in on compliance with Roberts Rules of Order, public hearing procedures, or the conduct of public officials.
2. Allowing residents to speak first or restricting public comments to residents only is not allowed.
3. A public body cannot require a person to disclose his or her address in order to speak.
4. A public body cannot require a person to register 5 days in advance in order to speak.
5. Public comment does not have to be listed on the agenda.
6. A public body is not required to solicit public comments.
7. The public body must have a written rule in place to enforce any time limit on public comment.
8. Public body cannot satisfy public comment requirement through a practice of allowing individuals to meet with officials outside of a meeting.
9. Restricting the content of public comments to agenda items is no longer permitted (PAC changed course on an earlier opinion).
10. Limiting a person's ability to speak during public comment to once every 45 days is not allowed.

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf


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