Bricker’s Basics for Running an Effective Public Meeting | Bricker & Eckler LLP

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A question Bricker & Eckler often receives from local government clients is, “How do you organize a good public meeting?” A “good” public meeting is an orderly and efficient meeting. Good meetings have a clear structure, everyone involved knows their respective roles and duties, and the governing body knows how to make the most of the various tools available. This article describes some of the tips and tricks we recommend for running a smooth and efficient public meeting.

Adopt and adhere to meeting policies and procedures

The best foundation for an orderly public meeting is to have good policies and procedures for the governing body to follow. Some government agencies choose to adopt standard meeting rules, such as Robert’s Rules of Procedure. Others choose to create their own bespoke set of rules. In either case, meeting policies should cover the general structure of all public meetings, as well as the roles of the officials and staff involved.

There is no sequence of events required for a public meeting, but a typical meeting structure generally contains the following basic elements: (i) the opening of the meeting (may include welcoming guests and a brief outline of the meeting agenda and rules of Public); (ii) adoption of the minutes of the previous meeting; (iii) review of new business (approval of new contracts/loans, public hearings, etc.); (iv) public comments; (v) closing rating reports; and (vi) adjournment of the meeting. The structure of the meeting must be established on an agenda circulated before the date of the meeting. The agenda will serve as the road map for the meeting. Stick to it as best you can. This will keep you on topic and on track throughout the meeting.

Governing body staff and officials should be aware of their respective roles during the meeting. For example, which official will open the meeting? Who will handle the roll call of the governing body following the motions? Who will swear in witnesses at public hearings? Who will take the minutes of the meeting? Once roles are assigned to particular officials and staff, ensure they are consistent for all future meetings. When you learn that an official or staff member with a designated role will be absent from a meeting, ensure that another official or staff member is lined up to be there and ready to take over the absentee’s duties .

Rules should also be established for members of the public who attend a public meeting. The rules for the public generally revolve around the public comment portion of the meeting. The public does not necessarily have the right to speak at a meeting (except for public hearings, which are a little different and explained in more detail below), although most government agencies choose to speak. include time for public comment in their agendas. Common rules imposed on public comments include: (i) an individual may only speak when called to the podium; (ii) speakers must introduce themselves by name and address when taking the podium; (iii) profanity is prohibited; and (iv) a person’s speaking time is limited (for example, after five minutes, the speaker must return to his seat). It’s helpful to briefly review all of the public comment rules at each meeting (either when the meeting is open or when the public comment portion is open).

Know the tools at your disposal and when to use them

Local governments conduct their business at meetings through a few basic procedural vehicles: ordinances, resolutions, and motions. Municipalities pass written ordinances to enact new law and pass resolutions (often written) to enact governing body policies and procedures. Townships pass written resolutions to enact laws and take any other action required to be taken under Ohio law by resolution. For both municipalities and townships, motions are verbal proposals generally used to manage day-to-day administrative affairs. Knowing when you have the ability to use each of these tools can help increase efficiency in a meeting. For example, a handful of contract payments may need to be approved at a meeting. Payment to each supplier could be managed by passing separate written resolutions. However, it may be easier and faster to approve all contract payments at once by including them together on a single consent agenda that can be approved by a single oral motion.

Another tool you have is your legal advisor. Some local governments have a lawyer present at every meeting to help answer any legal questions that may arise and generally guide the meeting. Others only engage legal counsel when they are aware that a particularly contentious issue is on the agenda. It is often helpful to have at least one legal advisor review meeting materials before a meeting to flag any legal issues that may arise during the meeting. If a legal question arises during the meeting and you don’t have a lawyer to answer it, remember that you usually have the option of filing a question for later decision in order to have more time to obtain an opinion. legal.

Manage public hearings as a “mini-meeting”

Meetings often include one or more public hearings on matters subject to deliberation and vote by the governing body. The subject of a public hearing is usually either a citizen request for permission from the governing body to take action (for example, receive a waiver from zoning regulations or rezone a parcel) or a citizen appeal against a decision of local government staff (for example, a citizen feels he was wrongly cited for violating a local law). We suggest treating each public hearing as a “mini-meeting” with its own agenda integrated into the larger meeting agenda. The agenda for a public hearing will generally include: (i) the opening of the public hearing; (ii) presentation/report and testimony from government personnel with general information about the request or appeal; (iii) presentation of the plaintiff in support of his case; (iv) public comments from any interested third parties; and (iv) deliberations of the governing body.

The same basic general rules for public meetings continue to apply to public hearings. Emotions can run high in public hearings, so it’s even more important to strictly enforce the rules of the governing body’s order. Third-party members of the public should speak only when called to the podium during the public comment portion of the hearing, and their comments should be directed to the governing body (not the claimant). When the public comment portion of the hearing is closed and the governing body enters into deliberation, officials should discuss the evidence presented at the hearing with reference to any specific elements or criteria intended to guide its decision (which will be likely described in the local law governing the agency’s decision).

Conclusion

It will usually take several meetings for officials and staff to familiarize themselves with the new meeting policies and procedures. It might even be worth having a few meeting “trials” to test out your new meeting structure before you jump into a real public meeting. Once up to speed, your meetings will run like a well-oiled machine.

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