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Shelby Smith
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Can the public be allowed to speak at a public special meeting? We recently had a special meeting to discuss nursing students and vaccine mandate policy. Approximately 15 nurses showed up, but none were allowed to speak. Our general meetings always have a public speaking section near the beginning. The Chair said public speaking was NOT allowed because it is not allowed by Roberts rules at a special meeting. I would argue that the chair could allow it. They published (email) the meeting agenda without a public speaking line item. I asked for it to be added and was denied. I simply want to know if the public could be allowed to speak at such a meeting if the chair or a majority of the board so wished…

 

thank you

 

 

Edited by Shelby Smith
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On 9/29/2021 at 8:07 PM, Shelby Smith said:

The Chair said public speaking was NOT allowed because it is not allowed by Roberts rules at a special meeting.

Robert's Rules of Order say nothing of the sort.

On 9/29/2021 at 8:07 PM, Shelby Smith said:

I would argue that the chair could allow it.

This is a possibility if the rules of this public body allow the presiding officer to render such a decision.

On 9/29/2021 at 8:07 PM, Shelby Smith said:

I simply want to know if the public could be allowed to speak at such a meeting if the chair or a majority of the board so wished…

Under Robert's Rules of Order a member of the body would have to move a motion to that effect and the rules would have to be suspended with a two-thirds vote in order to allow nonmembers to speak. (RONR 12th ed. paragraph 25:9) However, I would not be surprised if this body had a different rule which can only be determined by reading their controlling document(s). Do not be taken aback if you discover that the presiding officer has a very wide discretion in this regard.

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The chair was wrong.

Under RONR there is no right for any non member to speak at any meeting; the rules may be suspended to permit non members to speak in debate(25:9). 

An organization may establish it own rules permitting non members to speak.  Further some public bodies are required by statute to permit non members to comment.

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On 9/29/2021 at 10:07 PM, Shelby Smith said:

Can the public be allowed to speak at a public special meeting?

So far as RONR is concerned, yes, at the assembly's discretion. A 2/3 vote is required to permit nonmembers to speak in debate. If it is desired to let nonmembers speak while no business is pending (perhaps during a designated "public comment" period), a majority vote is sufficient.

Since this is a public body, it may well be that the body has its own rules on this matter, or that there are rules on this matter in applicable law. Such rules take precedence over RONR.

On 9/29/2021 at 10:07 PM, Shelby Smith said:

The Chair said public speaking was NOT allowed because it is not allowed by Roberts rules at a special meeting.

The chair is mistaken. RONR does not grant nonmembers a right to speak at any meeting. As noted above, however, the assembly has the discretion to do so. Special meetings are not treated any differently by RONR in this regard.

To the extent that there is any difference in how regular or special meetings are treated in this regard, that would have to be as a result of the body's own rules or applicable law.

On 9/29/2021 at 10:07 PM, Shelby Smith said:

I would argue that the chair could allow it.

This is incorrect, unless the organization's rules or applicable law so provides. RONR does not grant the chair the authority to permit nonmembers to speak. Only the assembly has that authority.

On 9/29/2021 at 10:07 PM, Shelby Smith said:

They published (email) the meeting agenda without a public speaking line item. I asked for it to be added and was denied.

The fact that a public speaking line item was not included on the agenda is of no consequence so far as RONR is concerned. While the assembly is limited in regard to what may be done at a special meeting, it's not that limited.

"The only business that can be transacted at a special meeting is that which has been specified in the call of the meeting. This rule, however, does not preclude the consideration of privileged motions, or of any subsidiary, incidental, or other motions that may arise in connection with the transaction of such business or the conduct of the meeting." RONR (12th ed.) 9:15

In my view, a motion to permit nonmembers to speak is a motion "that may arise in connection with the transaction of such business or the conduct of the meeting."

With that said, however, various "open meeting laws" and "sunshine laws" also have provisions relating to items of business being included in the notice of a public meeting, and those rules may be even stricter than what RONR provides. Additionally, the public body may have its own rules on this matter. As previously noted, such rules take precedence over RONR.

On 9/29/2021 at 10:07 PM, Shelby Smith said:

I simply want to know if the public could be allowed to speak at such a meeting if the chair or a majority of the board so wished…

The chair may not permit the public to speak, unless the board's rules so provide. The board may permit the public to speak. A majority vote is sufficient if no business is pending. If business is pending, a 2/3 vote is required.

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