Public comment made simple: Part 1

Easy rules to follow to make public comment go smoothly in public meetings.

Many questions about public meetings are directed to Michigan State University Extension on a regular basis. One question that often arises from clientele starts something like “what do I say when someone says…. at a public meeting?” Before a board can address disorder from the public, it must be sure things are in order procedurally and that expectations have been outlined for public comment. Part 1 of this article will address structures of public comment on public boards and part 2 will concentrate on how to handle disorder that can sometimes arise from that public comment.

A public meeting agenda would look similar to this:

  • Call to order
  • Ceremony
  • Limited Public Comment
  • Minutes
  • Reports of committees
  • Special committee reports
  • Special orders
  • Unfinished business
  • New business
  • Public Comment
  • Announcements
  • Adjournment

All public boards should have rules established that allow for an orderly public comment to take place at meetings. Michigan State University Extension educators suggest the following rules for public comment be established and recorded in a section that may be titled something like “rules of public comment and participation” at board meetings. These rules should set clear expectations for members of the public to address the public board.

  1. Each comment to the board made by an individual shall be limited to two (2) minutes in duration unless extended by agreement of the board chair.
  2. No individual may speak more than once on the same topic.
  3. All comments shall be directed only to the board chair; no person may address or question board members or the audience individually.
  4. The board will not respond to comments made during the public comment period unless it becomes necessary to ask a clarifying question, correct a factual error, or provide specific factual information.
  5. The board chair shall make an effort to alternate between supporting and opposing comments.
  6. Board members will refrain from speaking, but staff will note questions and input from the public to provide responses at a later date if appropriate.

The written guidelines should be provided to the public and reviewed prior to public comment periods if deemed necessary by the board. Board members should model courtesy and respect and require the public to address them by title. Personalized comments or attacks, poor language, or booing and clapping should never take place. The three major roles in a board meeting: Introduction; Each needs to play their part correctly for a successful meeting written by Julie Pioch, Professional Registered Parliamentarian with the National Association of Parliamentarians can also provide useful information on this topic.

The Michigan State University Extension Government and Public Policy team offers training for elected and appointed officials for improved effectiveness in several areas, including various public policy issues and effects of government programs, regulation, incentives, strategies and more. By working together with local elected and appointed officials, and interested citizens, MSU Extension is able to provide education on critical local and state issues. The Michigan State University Extension Government and Public Policy team also offers professional training in Parliamentary Procedure. To contact an expert in your area, visit MSU Extension’s expert search system or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464). 

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