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Wednesday, October 2, 2019

PAC Again Addresses "Resident Only" Public Comment in Binding Opinion

More from the PAC Office of the Illinois Attorney General - this time, a binding opinion on public comment at meetings. 

In PAC Op. 19-009, the PAC found a city in violation of the Open Meetings Act for prohibiting a member of the public from addressing the city council at a council meeting. A member of the public claims she stood up to speak at a city council meeting during public comment but was told by the mayor that he would not allow her to speak because she was not a city resident. 

She subsequently filed a complaint with the PAC claiming the city council violated the OMA by not letting her speak at the meeting. The PAC first noted that the city council had not adopted public comment rules so the council could not impose a restriction on public comment. The PAC rejected the city's reliance on Roberts Rules of Order as its public comment rules since the city could not identify specific rules addressing public comment at meetings. Since it had no rules in place, the city council could not impose a "resident only" restriction. But, even if the if the city council had adopted a "resident only" rule for public comment, the PAC stated that such a rule would violate the OMA because the public comment requirement of the OMA allows "any person" to address the public body, whether they are a resident or not. 

The PAC could have left its opinion there but instead it again seemed to engage in a First Amendment "designated forum" analysis of proper "time, place, and manner restrictions." Frankly, it isn't clear how the First Amendment would apply to this particular situation. But more concerning to this author, however, is that the PAC seems to be overstepping its statutory authority over OMA and FOIA issues by wading into constitutional issues best left to the courts. All that being said, the PAC has been clear in the past that public bodies should not adopt, impose, or enforce "resident only" restrictions or preferences for public comment at meetings, so that rationale is consistent with prior opinions.


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