Public Comments can criticize public officials!

By: Diane Benjamin

Before Bloomington attempts to regulate what citizens can say at public comment they need to read what the Attorney General’s office wrote:

This is a condensed version: https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/pac-rejects-public-body-s-limitation-on-4628106/?fbclid=IwAR1IBUY570-nAqltZZP3sNWFh243BbKvVTrK6m7e47vswXUzoMabFqz-l0E

Excerpts:

The PAC found that because there was no evidence that the comments actually disrupted the meeting, the council could not restrain the speech.

In this case, the city council muted two speakers during public meetings. The first speaker criticized a decision by the mayor. The second speaker was muted for criticizing specific public employees.

Restrictions in the name of decorum, however, must be narrowly construed to only regulate conduct that actually disturbs or impedes a meeting. Improper disturbances include speaking over the allotted time limit, being unduly repetitious, or extending an irrelevant discussion. Such actions prevent the public body from efficiently accomplishing its business. The OMA, however, does not allow a public body to adopt overbroad and arbitrary rules limiting public comment, particularly where there is no actual disruption of a meeting.  

Here, the PAC found that the City Council applied its “abusive language” rule in an overly broad manner. It censured comments that were critical of the public body but did not actually disrupt a meeting. Accordingly, the PAC concluded that the City Council violated the OMA by muting the community members.  

It is natural for public officials to want to protect employees and public officials from what may often seem like unfair criticism. This decision is a reminder that, for the PAC, such inclinations of a public body will not likely be enough to justify restraining speech.

Other public bodies need to pay attention too!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s