Although not required by law, most municipalities have a space on their meeting agendas for “Public Comment” or “Public Input” on matters and issues in the municipality. It is important to keep in mind a couple of items when dealing with public comments.
First, you should clearly set out the rules. At a minimum, you should state the maximum length of time for comment by each speaker and the total length of the comment period. In addition, during public comment, keep in mind that public comment is just that – the time for the public to comment on any issue. It is not, however, a public discussion, debate, or question-and-answer period. It is out of order for members of the board to engage with the public during this time. Resisting the temptation to respond to a member of the public can also prevent a potential open meetings violation. A discussion could become a violation if the issue being discussed is not on the agenda.
If an issue raised in the public comment session is one the board wants to follow up on or engage the audience on, other options are available. Set up a public hearing or a question- and-answer session on that narrow issue, or place the item on the agenda of a future regularly scheduled meeting. Otherwise, during public comment, board members should sit back, relax and listen to the public’s interest and thank them for their participation in the process.