In a recent binding PAC Opinion, the PAC found a public body in violation of the Open Meetings Act (OMA) for restricting the content of public comment. PAC Op. 23-013

A member of the public submitted a request for
review to the PAC claiming that a school board violated the OMA when the board president interrupted her during public comment when she referred to a hiring policy and informed her that she could not discuss personnel issues at a public board meeting. 

The PAC concluded the school board violated section 2.06(g) of the OMA by imposing a restriction on
public comment that was not authorized by the board’s “established and recorded” public comment rules. Although
the school board had adopted public comment rules, those rules did not restrict public
comment on personnel matters. The board responded that its
restriction on discussing personnel issues was authorized by language on the board’s annotated board meeting agenda stating that the school board requests that any matters concerning personnel or students be privately communicated to the board. However, the PAC
rejected the board’s argument, finding that there was no evidence that the board had communicated this restriction to the public. 

Although the PAC did not make a formal determination on whether the board could establish this type of restriction on public comment since its opinion was based on the requirement in section 2.06(g) that public comment rules be “established and recorded,” the PAC did state that this type of restriction might constitute an
impermissible content-based restriction on the speaker’s First Amendment
rights. As we have noted on Municipal Minute before, the PAC has weighed in on constitutional issues in the past when deciding requests for review although the First Amendment was not the basis for this opinion.

Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov & Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink