Q&A: Right to speak at public meetings?

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From the Carroll County Comet:

Q: An attorney at the Indiana School Board Association told me that school board meetings are not “public” meetings where the public is allowed to speak. She said they were “open” meetings, but the board of school trustees is not required to provide an opportunity for the public to speak at their meetings.

I keep hearing school board members refer to their meetings as “private meetings held in the public.” Is that correct? 

A: It’s correct that under the Open Door Law, the public isn’t given a right to speak at meetings of governing bodies. IC 5-14-1.5-3 requires meeting of governing bodies to be open for the purpose of permitting the public “to observe and record” the meetings. (Now there are specific instances where a statute requires the entity to have a public hearing where the public has a right to give comments, but those cases are specifically spelled out in a specific statute for that particular public hearing.)

Allowing public comment at regular meetings of governing bodies is an option, not a requirement.

We don’t have town hall meetings where everyone is invited to speak and vote on a particular issue. We have representatives of the public who have either been elected or appointed to governing bodies.

These representatives speak for the public and act for the public, but they don’t have to listen to the public during their meetings if they don’t want to hear what the public has to say.

What the attorney for the Indiana School Boards Association told you is correct. The governing body can set up parameters at meetings for whether the public can speak, when they can speak if given the opportunity, and for how long.

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

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