On Citizen Comments at Open Meetings in Texas (Glen Rose)Somervell County Salon-Glen Rose, Rainbow, Nemo, Glass....Texas


On Citizen Comments at Open Meetings in Texas (Glen Rose)

29 May 2010 at 12:01:16 PM

Have been thinking about this since the other day, where I saw via video that Jimmy Gosdin was not permitted by Mayor Miller to speak in public comments because what he wanted to talk about was already on the agenda.(i,e, about the interviews for city administrator being unilaterally scuttled)

I have a problem with this. 

First, I think the agenda items for both City Council and the County Commissioners wrongly represent public (or citizen) comments.


  1.   Citizen Comments: This is for citizens to comment on any subject concerning city business that is not on the current agenda.  Members of the Council may answer direct questions, but no action may be taken at this meeting.

or (County)

CITIZEN COMMENTS:  This is for citizens to comment on any subject not on the current agenda concerning county business.  Members of the Court may answer direct questions, but any action from this item must be scheduled on a future agenda.

I looked at the way public or citizen comments are worded for the School Board, Water Board and Hospital Authority. GRISD says.

4.PUBLIC COMMENTS/AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION Time is set aside to hear comments from the audience regarding agenda items or other topics of general concern. Any complaint brought against a district employee or involving the discipline of a student shall be heard in closed session

both the Somervell County Water Board and the Somervell County Hospital Authority dba GRMC say merely

Public comments

These look correct. Here's my point. The Open Meetings Act says that no government meeting has to even have public comments. An open meeting, in other words, is not a *public* meeting in the sense that the members of the public can jump up like jack in the boxes and talk along with the elected officials. That's WHY, though, a government entity can put in a public comment section on the agenda, so that citizens can comment on things and they can HEAR IT AT THE MEETING. IF they have a public comment, it MUST be on the agenda so that people know and can go say their piece.

CAN a government official tell them that the public comment must be one that isn't already on the agenda?  NO. I think the city and county examples are fundamental misunderstandings about public comment. Before I quote the OMA, imagine that you, like Jimmy Gosdin, want to go say something about an item on the agenda. You KNOW that there are NO public comment sections on the agenda for that item, so you rightly figure you will say your piece during the one general public comment section. The first question is, is there anything in the OMA law that says that you CANNOT TALK ABOUT SOMETHING THAT IS ON THE AGENDA. No. From page 39 of the OMA

C. Rights of the Public
A meeting that is “open to the public” under the Act is one that the public is permitted to attend.194
The Act does not entitle the public to choose the items to be discussed or to speak about items on the

Let me stop right here. The context of that last sentence is about where the public can attend but isn't entitled WITHOUT A DEFINED PUBLIC COMMENT SECTION to talk about items on the agenda or set the agenda items, for that matter. BUT........

A governmental body may, however, give members of the public an opportunity to speak
at a public meeting.196 If it does so, it may set reasonable limits on the number, frequency and
length of presentations before it, but it may not unfairly discriminate among speakers for or against a
particular point of view.197

Now THIS Is talking about letting the public, in an orderly fashion, give public comments at a time where the agenda has been arranged for it. Let's go back to the question of whether the government entity can tell the public what or what not to talk about.

Many governmental bodies conduct “public comment,” “public forum” or “open mike” sessions, at
which members of the public may address comments on any subject to the governmental body.198 A public comment session is a meeting as defined by section 551.001(4)(B) of the Government Code, because the members of the governmental body “receive information from . . . or receive questions from [a] third person.”199 Accordingly, the governmental body must give notice of a public comment session. See supra Part VII.A.

On any subject. That would also be anything on the agenda. Why? Because usually there is no public comment section defined around other agenda items, the government authority does NOT have to allow anyone to speak except through a public comment section, so logically, if a citizen wanted to give his or her opinion on a subject, he or she would HAVE to do it during the public comment section and the government body oculd NOT stop them from giving an opinion about an agenda item. Does the governmental body have to engage in discussion? Nope. This next talks about stuff the public brings up that isn't on the agenda.

The Act permits a member of the public or a member of the governmental body to raise a subject
that has not been included in the notice for the meeting, but any discussion of the subject must be
limited to a proposal to place the subject on the agenda for a future meeting. Section 551.042 of the
Act provides for this procedure:
(a) If, at a meeting of a governmental body, a member of the public or of the
governmental body inquires about a subject for which notice has not been
given as required by this subchapter, the notice provisions of this
subchapter do not apply to:
(1) a statement of specific factual information given in response to the inquiry;
(2) a recitation of existing policy in response to the inquiry.
(b) Any deliberation of or decision about the subject of the inquiry shall be
limited to a proposal to place the subject on the agenda for a subsequent

Now, the above is more talking about when something comes up that isn't on the agenda. The person can say his piece, but the governmental entity cannot ask questions or discuss it, but only say, if they wish, that the topic could be put on the agenda for a future meeting. Why? So that the public can know about whatever it is and decide if they want to attend, too. (This is why, incidentally, I believe it was an OMA violation to allow this man to talk, and the city council members to discuss, an item that was not clearly listed on the agenda).

So, going back to Jimmy Gosdin, if he couldn't say his opinion on city administrator during the public comment section, then WHEN was he supposed to do it? Mayor Miller, in response to Gosdin asking if he could say his piece later, said "I don't know". But then she decided to allow for public comment on the item about that. I think that was also an OMA, although I haven't asked the AG, through their hotline, specifically about that. Why? Because ANY public comment must be listed on the agenda. And there was NO public comment portion for that item at all; it only depended on the whim of the mayor to decide that she would allow people to speak, on the fly. She mentioned people signing in to speak, but how would people even know to sign in since there was no agenda item for public comment on that item?

In summary, I believe that both the city and county are incorrect in their wording about public comment and that the other governmental entities are correct. If you're going to have public comment and allow the public to speak at an open meeting, you CAN'T TELL THEM WHAT THEY CAN TALK ABOUT or tell them they can't talk about agenda items. They can talk about whatever they want, within a reasonable time and manner (usually 2-3 minutes). Conversely, seems like if you WANT public comment on agenda items, that should be listed AS public comment as a subitem along with that agenda item.

P.S. Can I just mention one of my pet peeves again here? The City has an excellent microphone system. I think people should be required to go up to the podium and speak IF allowed to by the council, so that there can be a good recording. As someone that occasionally listens to tape recordings made there, audience comments are many times very muddy and hard to hear. I know sometimes people don't want to get up and make their way to the mike. Well, that to me is WHY you have a defined procedure and time for public comments, so that peanut gallery comments don't disrupt the flow of the meetings and so that there can be an accurate record, well heard, of what everyone SAID.


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