Public comment made simple: Part 2

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

Part 1 of this article addressed structures of public comment on public boards and offered a suggested format and rules to have an orderly public comment. Part 2 concentrates on how to handle disorder that can sometimes arise from that public comment.

Mastering Council Meetings: A Guidebook for Elected Officials and Local Governments by Ann G. Macfarlane and Andrew L. Estep pg. 102-103, highlights examples of what a presider can say when a member of the public makes specific comments.

If someone says…

The presider can say…

You’re a jerk

The rules of our board forbid the use of insults or personal attacks.

Uses curse words

Profanity is not allowed at our meetings.  The speaker will kindly refrain from these improper expressions.

I think the clerk/treasurer is on the take.

Citizens must refrain from making accusations of this type during a meeting, and will kindly follow our established personnel policies for dealing with concerns about possible criminal behavior.

There are several more examples in the book, along with how to address a board member who may say similarly inappropriate phrases. A review of what to say when those situations arise will help the presider feel more confident and comfortable in addressing poor behaviors. When citizens continue to demonstrate offensive behavior, Mastering Council Meetings: A Guidebook for Elected Officials and Local Governments explains that the presider might use a phrase such as “Our rules of procedure prohibit behavior of this type. The attendee will kindly leave the room.” If the individual doesn’t comply with leaving the room, it’s then acceptable to request removal from the sergeant-at-arms.

Citizens may get frustrated with public comment processes that may not allow for the type of interaction on an issue they are seeking. If your board is interested in addressing an issue together with the public, productive discussions are fundamental. Using ground rules can be an additional tool to create meetings with clear expectations for involvement. When combined with skilled facilitation, good meeting design and thoughtful involvement by participants, meetings can be made more effective for all.  

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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