The Public Access Counselor (PAC) in the Illinois Attorney General’s office recently issued a binding opinion regarding public participation in meetings held by public bodies.
Section 2.06(g) of the Open Meetings Act (OMA) provides that “any person shall be permitted an opportunity to address public officials under the rules established and recorded by the public body.” In 2014 PAC 30194, the plaintiff, a non-board member, submitted a request to speak during the public comment period of a meeting held by the McLean County Board on June 11, 2014, four working days prior to the June 17, 2014, meeting. The Board’s rules stated in part that “All requests by non-members of the Board for appearance before the Board shall be made to the Administrator, in writing with the subject matter stated, not less than five working days before the next scheduled Board meeting.” The Board informed the plaintiff that because his request was submitted four working days prior to the scheduled meeting, he would not be eligible to speak during the public comment period. Plaintiff submitted a Request for Review to the PAC, alleging that the Board’s five-day rule violates the OMA.
The PAC held that rules governing public comment must accommodate the speaker’s statutory right to address the public body, while also ensuring that the public body can maintain order and decorum at public meetings. Here, the PAC held that the five-day rule unnecessarily restricted individuals from addressing the Board and, therefore, is not a reasonable rule. Additionally, the PAC concluded that the Board failed to demonstrate how this rule is reasonably calculated to further a significant governmental interest. The PAC reasoned that requiring a person to submit a request to speak at a public meeting multiple days before a public body is even obligated to post the agenda (48 hours) is not a reasonable requirement. Following the PAC’s analysis, the Board was directed to amend its rules governing public comment and to conduct its future meetings in compliance with the OMA.