Q&A: Comments at public meetings


Submitted by the Francesville Tribune:

Q: Is there a law or ordinance at the state or local level that forbids a reporter from asking questions about an item on the agenda during open meetings of county commissioners, drainage board, zoning board, city/town council, etc.?

A: The Open Door Law gives the public the right “observe and record” the regular meetings of governing bodies of government units. [See IC 5-14-1.5-3.]

The public does not have a right to speak at a meeting. The level of public participation is a decision made by the governing body.

Caveat: At some meetings, the public does have a legal right to speak – a budget hearing of the government unit, for example.

There are no special privileges for the media to ask questions during the meeting. The media has only the same right as the public – to “observe and record.”

I do always recommend that governing bodies have a policy that gives the public an opportunity to speak to avoid a public perception that the council, board, etc., doesn’t care about citizen input.

But that practice is up to the governing body to establish, and it can dictate when public input is allowed – during each agenda item, at the start of the meeting or at the end of the meeting, for instance. And it can set time limits on how long an individual will be granted the floor to speak.

So your best options are to either get a copy of the board packet ahead of time and ask questions of the appropriate official before the meeting or wait until after the meeting to ask your questions.

Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at skey@hspa.com or (317) 624-4427.