October 10, 2014

By James A. Petrungaro

We  recently reported that the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor (“PAC”) rejected a public body’s requirement that an individual wishing to participate in public comment at a board meeting must publicly state her home address when providing comment to the board. In a new decision involving a separate dispute over the lawfulness of a public body’s prerequisite to addressing the board during public comment, the PAC has again ruled in favor of public access.

At issue was whether a County Board’s policy requiring anyone wishing to participate in public comment to pre-register in writing at least five-business days prior to the meeting. The PAC ruled that the onerous pre- registration requirement violates the Open Meetings Act because it does not further the speaker’s statutory right to address the board, subject only to reasonable rules of the public body that are tailored to preserve order and decorum at the meeting.   The PAC particularly noted that under the County Board’s rule, a member of the public would be obligated to register before the County was obligated to even post its meeting agenda.

Many school districts and other public bodies require some form of public comment registration at their meetings. These often take the form of a single sign-in sheet or individual public comment cards. The PAC’s decision does not address such a registration rule and we envision these requirements to be reasonably related to the orderly operation of the public meeting. Should you have any questions concerning your board’s public comment policy and rules, we are ready to assist you.