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Public Comment Under the Open Meetings Act

October 6th, 2014

As many of you know, the Open Meetings Act was recently amended to allow for public comment at public meetings.  In many public meetings, it has been custom and practice for the speaker to identify themselves by name and address prior to making comments.  This was the case in one suburb when a speaker refused to give her home address prior to addressing the village board.  The Mayor insisted the rules of the board required her address and interrupted her comments to the board.  Eventually, the speaker was allowed to address the board without stating her address.

In analyzing the complaint brought by the speaker, the Attorney General noted the amendment to the Open Meetings Act does allow public bodies to create rules and regulations for the public comment portions of public meetings.  See 5 ILCS 120/2.06(g).  However, those rules and regulations are subject to reasonable “time, place, and manner” restrictions as has been interpret by a vast body of case law on government regulation of speech.  The AG then noted the village ordinance regulating public comment at board meetings does not require a member of the public to state his or her home address prior to addressing the board.

Nevertheless, since many public bodies followed a similar practice, the PAC addressed the issue to provide clarity.  The PAC found a requirement that a speaker provide their home address prior to addressing a public body at an open meeting exceeded the rule making authority of the Open Meetings Act.  The PAC found such a requirement serves little purpose and has the potential to significantly limit public participation at meetings.