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The Public Access Counselor (PAC) released an Opinion that speakers who wish to provide public comment at a meeting cannot be required to state their address for the record as a condition of the right to speak.

The PAC’s analysis relied in large measure on the relatively new (since 2011) requirements of section 2.06(g) of the Open Meetings Act (OMA) which requires all public bodies to provide the opportunity for members of the public to address public officials. The PAC acknowledged that there are some limits on the right to address the public body and that the public body may establish and record rules on the right to comment by the public.  However, it found that the requirement to state a name and address would not be considered an acceptable or reasonable limit.

Rather, the OMA contemplates that reasonable time place and manner restrictions may be permissible to promote decorum and efficiency and that rules that do things such as impose time limits on comment might be appropriate.  The PAC noted that the primary purpose of the Section 2.06(g) provisions governing public comment are to accommodate a speaker’s statutory right to address the public body, and that a rule that conditioned that right on identifying the speaker’s home address would not be acceptable, as a person’s right to comment is not contingent upon where they reside.  The PAC found that such a rule would have a chilling effect on the right to speak at a public meeting.  It is worth noting, however, that the PAC concluded nothing prohibited a member of the public from voluntarily providing this information, and thus it seems a body may request the information provided it is not mandated.

The PAC’s analysis clearly indicated that regardless of whether imposing the address requirement was a longstanding custom or practice, it was only the formally passed rules governing public comment that were relevant to the PAC’s analysis because only those “established and recorded” rules may limit an individual’s right to address a public body.  Thus, if your local government has not already considered and passed rules permitting and regulating public comment at your meetings, consider contacting your attorney to discuss formalizing your practices in a manner consistent with the Open Meetings Act.

Ruth Alderman Schlossberg

Author: Ruth A. Schlossberg