Public Comment

Presented by
Nasha Y. Torrez
Allows Community input.
Helps the Board better understand the
pulse of their constituents.
Gives the District more balance in decision
 Can
make for really long Board meetings.
 Can
open doors for hurt feelings, negativity,
and maybe even slander.
 Can
be frustrating and a lot of work for the
presiding officer.
 Both
the U.S. & N.M. Constitutions prohibit
governmental entities (like school districts)
from taking any action to abridge a person’s
freedom of speech.
 The
District shall take no action abridging
the freedom of speech or the right of the
people to petition the Board for redress of
U.S. Const. Amend. I, XIV; NM Const. art. I, § 17.
 Courts
have interpreted this to mean
that speech may be restricted as to
Place, and
BUT NOT on the basis of content of the speech
or the message it conveys.
The Board may create a limited public
forum for the purpose of hearing comments
from the public so long as:
The Board does not discriminate against
speech on the basis of viewpoint;
2. Any restrictions are reasonable in light of
the purpose served by the forum; and
3. The Board provides alternative paths for
expressing categories of protected speech
that are excluded from the forum.
Limitations on comments must be reasonable:
Subject Matter
 School-Related
 Sign up and state the school-related subject
Personnel Issues
 May be more appropriate for a Closed Session under
 Performance of public employees is a matter of public
 May be referred to grievance policy
Be Consistent!
See Handout page 3 for case law & more detail.
 The
Open Meetings Act (“OMA”) provides
that “all persons desiring shall be permitted
to attend and listen to the deliberations and
proceedings.” NMSA 1978 § 10-15-1(A) (1999).
local school board is not required under
OMA to allow public participation or public
comments at its meetings; rather, the law
requires only that all board meetings be
public, unless a closed session is permitted
by the OMA.
The NM AG has said generally that a school board
may limit or decline to allow public debate and
may take steps necessary to maintain public order
at its meetings.
The NM AG wrote that a school board president
may permit, deny, or regulate public
participation at a school board meeting, so long
as the president has authority to do so under the
board’s rules and so long as the board president
does not act “arbitrarily or capriciously” and the
board’s rules are not “unreasonable, arbitrary or
capricious.” NM Att’y Gen. Op. 90-26.
 Decide
what works best for your Board and
Within the law and reason.
Designate Public Comment time on the Agenda.
Response for Topic Not on Agenda
Can be at beginning or end of the meeting.
Can set a time limit for the total amount of time
allowed for Public Comment on the Agenda.
Can be limited to regular meetings only, instead of Board
Study Sessions (for example).
Gives the community notice of what they can come and
talk about. OMA.
Recitation of existing policy in response to the inquiry.
Proposal to add a topic to a future meeting.
Response for Topic on the Agenda
Reserve discussion until the agenda items is reached.
 Sign-up for all speakers before the meeting
 Have copies of Board rules and policies
regarding public comment.
 Board President should state rules, including
the fact that matter may be referred to
grievance process if appropriate.
President may make a disclaimer
and/or warning to make sure the
public understands that the
statements made during public
comments time are the opinion
of the speaker and not
necessarily that of the Board
members or staff.
 Everyone
does not have to be allowed to
 Repetitive comments can be limited.
 Time limits for all comments and for
individual speakers can be set.
 Groups may designate spokesperson.
 Board President may enforce guidelines.
Can a Repeat Speaker be Prohibited?
By Topic?
By Individual Speaker?
Can refer speaker to grievance policy, if
CAUTION: Err on the side of allowing speech
 Some Criticism is to be Expected
 “Democracy at its Best and its Worst”
 Do not allow Personal Attacks of:
 Board
 Administration
 Others
 Prohibit Uncivil Conduct
 Yelling, Obscenities, Disruption
Be Consistent…
If names are allowed to praise a
job well done, it will be difficult
to justify prohibiting names to
criticize conduct or a decision.
Nasha Y. Torrez
[email protected]

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