Public Access Opinion 19-009

Improper Refusal to Let Non-Resident Speak During Public Comment

Open Meetings Act - OMA
Case: Public Access Opinion 19-009
Date: Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The Rushville City Council (Council) violated OMA by refusing to let a non-resident member of the public (Requestor) speak during public comment in violation of Section 2.06(g) of OMA.

Requestor submitted a Request for Review to the PAC on August 1, 2019, alleging that the Council violated OMA by refusing to let her speak at its July 1, 2019 meeting during the public comment session. Requestor said that she stood up to speak but the Mayor dismissed her request, saying “no ma' am, I listened to you for two months and you have no standing to be here, you don’t live in this town, you don't vote in this town and you have no reason to be here. I have heard two months of it and I'm not hearing anymore!'" Requestor asked the Council if the Mayor could do this, and one member responded by saying that, “[the Council would] ask for legal [counsel] to see if the Mayor can do this.”
On August 7, 2019, the PAC forwarded a copy of the Requestor’s Request for Review to the Council, asking it to provide a detailed response to Requestor’s allegations, copies of Council rules governing public comment, and copies of the agenda, minutes, and any recordings of the July 1 meeting. The Council did not provide the PAC with its rules governing public comment, and simply stated they adopted Roberts Rules of Order. The Council also acknowledged that it refused to let Requestor speak on July 1 because she was a non-resident.

Though the Council may set rules regarding public comment, Section 2.06(g) clearly states that “[a]ny person shall be permitted an opportunity to address public officials under the rules established and recorded by the public body.” So even if the Council had adopted a rule prohibiting non-residents from speaking, that would have violated OMA. The PAC ordered the Council to refrain from applying unestablished and unrecorded rules to restrict public comment at future meetings, and to refrain from limiting public comment to City residents.

This opinion is binding only to the parties involved and may be appealed pursuant to State law.