Thursday, March 26, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Public Hearings and Rearranging the Furniture (3/26/15)

Question: Does the city council have to provide a public comment period at its meetings?

Answer: Most city councils have chosen to provide some type of public comment period at their meetings. But the truth is that the Open Meeting Law does not give the public the right to speak at city council meetings. As a result, it’s up to individual cities to decide if and how the public can participate during a council meeting.

Public hearings are another story. The whole point of a public hearing (discretionary or required) is to provide an opportunity for the public to comment about a particular issue, and the role of city councilmembers is to respectfully listen. Councilmembers should not discuss issues among themselves or debate with the member of the public that provide input during a public hearing. It’s their time to shine.

There are some p’s & q’s for public meetings and hearings that can keep these important listening opportunities golden:
  • The law doesn’t give members of the public the right to talk for however long or about whatever topic they want at public hearings or at a council meeting where public comment is permitted.  
  • City councils have authority to regulate their own procedure and can adopt reasonable parameters regarding public participation, such as regulations that limit the amount of time for each speaker and that require speakers to restrict their comments to issues relating to city business or to the public hearing at issue.
  • Members of the public do not have the right to remain at council meetings or public hearings if they are disrupting the proceedings. For example, a Minnesota woman was recently convicted of disorderly conduct after police removed her from a city council meeting for being disruptive. When the woman arrived at the council meeting, she removed a chair from the public gallery, placed it directly in front of the council’s bench, and refused requests for her to move back to the public gallery.
These rules can keep a meeting running, give opportunity for the public to be heard in a fair manner, and keep the furniture from becoming a point of contention.

Written by Susan Naughton, research attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1232.

This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information. 


  1. I wonder why the writer didn't print the fact that my illegal arrest is being appealed with the Minnesota Court of Appeals? I wonder why the writer didn't include information about the council meeting 4 days prior, where 7 other individuals(including the mayors husband and mother in law), were allowed to sit in the same area that I was denied? Actually it is no wonder why this writer did not mentioned the fact I was exercising my free speech, and demanding my equal rights. It is also no surprise that this biased organization is highlighting my case. Of course the League of Minnesota Cities would brag about this, in an attempt to encourage other councils to wield their power to chill free speech and deny equal rights. No surprise here at all. Readers should know that the writer has intentionally left out a great deal of pertinent public information to distort the reality of the event. Abuse of power is evident at every level of government, all the way from Little Falls to Washington, D.C. American exceptionalism, right?

  2. One more tidbit for the writer.....the information I just shared on this comment thread will be highlighted today on my public blog and on my television show which is broadcast on local public access tv. Taxpayers have a right to know how the League of Minnesota Cities uses taxpayer dollars.


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