What are the Board's obligations to allow participation by the public during board meetings?
May 18, 2012
Public participation at school board meetings is not required by state law. Oregon public meetings laws are created so the public can observe how the business of a public body is conducted, not to mandate the public's participation in the process. As with any general rule, there are some limited exceptions; one example is budget hearings where the board is required to make sure there is time for the public to comment on the proposed budget.
In addition, some boards also have a policy or practice of allowing time on their agenda for the public to make comments during the meeting. While boards retain the right to suspend this practice or policy when necessary, it is important to keep in mind the public becomes accustom having the opportunity to comment at meetings and eliminating this practice can lead to members of the public being upset. During times of conflict it may be seen as a way for the board to eliminate its most vocal critics. This is especially true if the board doesn't explain why it is suspending the policy or practice.
One way to insure an orderly public comment during this portion of the meeting is to develop and adopt rules of conduct. Rules can include time limits on how long a member of the public can speak, you can even designate how much time overall will be allocated to the public comment portion of the meeting. It is important to remember that once the board opens the meeting to public comments it is considered a "limited public forum" and any restrictions the board puts in place must be reasonable time, place and manner restrictions and be viewpoint neutral (e.g. can't prevent someone with a different opinion from speaking).
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