Who may speak during public comment at an open meeting?
Does the Open Meetings Act allow public officials to prohibit a person from speaking during public comment?
Does Michigan’s Open Meetings Act allow public officials to prohibit a person from speaking during public comment at an open meeting? In a word, no.
The act very simply states: “A person shall be permitted to address a meeting of a public body under rules established and recorded by the public body. The legislature or a house of the legislature may provide by rule that the right to address may be limited to prescribed times at hearings and committee meetings only.”
The Act states that no person may be excluded from an open meeting except in the case of a breach of the peace which actually occurs at the meeting. Further, an Attorney General Opinion stated that any rule which has the effect of completely denying a person the right to public comment is invalid. So, for example, a board may not have a rule limiting public comment in total to 30 minutes, or requiring comment to those who are residents of the municipality.
In that same opinion, the Attorney General did write that a board could adopt limits for how long a person may speak during public comment. Many boards have adopted limits on speaking time, usually limiting each person to a couple of minutes so that everyone has the opportunity to speak without resulting in hours-long public comment.
But, again, none of these limitations allow a person’s right to public comment to be denied. Of recent interest in Michigan, the Open Meetings Act also contains no age requirement for participating in public comment. It simply says, “A person shall be permitted…”
So, the next time you or someone you know wants to speak during public comment period at a public meeting, make sure they’re allowed to exercise that right.
This article is one in a series on public participation in open meetings in Michigan. The first article can be found here, and future articles will explore other ways the public can participate in the decision-making process of local government.
Those in Michigan State University Extension that focus on Government and Public Policy provide various training programs, which are available to be presented in your county. Contact your local Government and Public Policy educator for more information.