The Open Meetings Act does not address a right to comment. Rights afforded by local government bodies are governed by the rules of those bodies, or the state municipal code statutes concerning local government.
An agency or other entity allowing public comment can conduct its meetings “in an orderly manner” and “be free from unwarranted interference in the conduct of its affairs.” Ark. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 77-86. See also Ark. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 93-052. The agency can, therefore, adopt rules that would sanction a person who disrupts a meeting.
Comments by members of the public do not need to be approved under either Act. Under the Brown Act, if a meeting is willfully interrupted by a group of persons, the body may order the room cleared and continue in session if order cannot be restored by removing the individuals. Cal. Gov't Code § 54957.9. In such a situation, the body can only consider items on the agenda, and representatives of the press or other news media, except those participating in the disturbance, must be allowed to attend. Id. The body may readmit individuals who did not willfully disturb the orderly conduct of the meeting. Id.
No provision in the Open Meetings Law addresses this issue. Unruly or indecorous conduct of the person seeking admittance is not advisable, since this will only give the public body legitimate grounds for exclusion.
Georgia county commissions and city councils and like bodies, e.g., school boards, typically have rules affording a limited right of public comment at meetings. See, e.g., Cardinale v. City of Atlanta, 290 Ga. 521, 522, 722 S.E.2d 732, 734 (2012) (noting the existence of rules governing public comment at Atlanta city council meetings). The state’s Open Meetings Act does not address the issue of public comment.
There are no sanctions for unapproved comments in the Open Meeting Law. Disruptive or disorderly conduct would subject the person involved in such conduct to removal from the meeting, however, and possible arrest under general criminal statutes dealing with such conduct.
The Open Meetings Act does not deal with public comments at public meetings. Ky. Rev. Stat. 61.840 provides that public agencies may condition attendance by members of the public as “required for the maintenance of order.”
Some public bodies have attempted to impose sanctions for "out of order" comments, including barring the speaker from future participation. The Montana Supreme Court has not addressed whether such sanctions are permissible.
In Oklahoma, it is potentially a misdemeanor criminal offense for a person to willfully disturb, interfere with, or disrupt state business, political subdivisions, agency operations, or employees. 21 O.S. § 280 states:
“A. It is unlawful for any person, alone or in concert with others and without authorization, to willfully disturb, interfere or disrupt state business or the business of any political subdivision, which includes publicly posted meetings, or any agency operations or any employee, agent, official or representative of the state or political subdivision.
It is unlawful for any person who is without authority or who is causing any disturbance, interference or disruption to willfully refuse to disperse or leave any property, building or structure owned, leased or occupied by state officials or any political subdivision or its employees, agents or representatives or used in any manner to conduct state business or any political subdivision’s business or operations after proper notice by a peace officer, sergeant-at-arms, or other security personnel.
Any violation of the provisions of this section shall be a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for a term of not more than one (1) year, by a fine not exceeding One Thousand Dollars ($1,000.00), or by both such fine and imprisonment.
For purposes of this section, ‘disturb, interfere or disrupt’ means any conduct that is violent, threatening, abusive, obscene, or that jeopardizes the safety of self or others.”
The governmental body may adopt reasonable rules consistent with relevant provisions of law allowing them to do so. Op. Tex. Att’y Gen. No. JC-0169 (2000). (citing Op. Tex. Att’y Gen. No. H-188 (1973); Op. Tex. Att’y Gen. No. LO-96-111 (1996)). However, if the governmental body allows comments it must allow them in an even-handed fashion and may not discriminate among views seeking expression. Op. Tex. Att’y Gen. No. LO-96-111 (1996)).
If a person is not permitted to comment, or if no comments of members of the public are permitted, the governing body may be in violation of the statute and subject to a suit for declaratory and or injunctive relief. W. Va. Code § 6-9A-6.
The Act provides that "this article does not prohibit the removal from a meeting of any member of the public who is disrupting the meeting to the extent that orderly conduct of the meeting is compromised." Of course, the power to remove a member of the public from a meeting on the basis of “disruptive” conduct may not be exercised arbitrarily.