Does the public have a right to speak at a board meeting? What does a board do if a member of the public wants to complain about a staff member in a public meeting?
Districts are not required to have public comment at all meetings (some instances require public comment, i.e., hiring a superintendent or a budget hearing, ). The Oregon Attorney General’s Public Records and Public Meetings Manual states: “The Public Meetings Law is a public attendance law, not a public participation law….The right of public attendance guaranteed by the Public Meetings Law does not include the right to participate by public testimony or comment.”
Of course, it is a good practice to include a public comment period on the agenda, and most boards do. Many boards have a policy stating that there will be a public comment period offered at regular meetings, in fact. But it’s important to remember that the law does not require this in most cases, and a board can develop rules around its public comment period (adding time limits, for example).
Boards should also make clear to the public that they cannot hear complaints about staff members during public comment time. This is in part due to the rights afforded the person that is being complained about. In ORS 192.660(2), there are provisions to go into executive session for a number of reasons. Two of those reasons, complaints against an employee or officer and the evaluation of an employee, reserve the right to make a decision regarding open or executive session to the person that the complaint or evaluation are about. In those situations, the governing body is required to provide that individual with at least 24 hours’ notice of the meeting, giving them sufficient time to make an informed decision about hearing the complaint in open or closed session. If a member of the public has a complaint about a staff member, they can file the complaint through the appropriate procedures as outlined in policy, and through the appeals process, it may be brought before the board when appropriate.