The New York Coalition for Open Government, pushing for the New York State Legislature to guarantee the public’s right to speak at local government meetings, has commissioned a report on public comment periods.

According to the coalition, in New York State, the public is allowed to speak at a town board meeting only if government officials in their good graces allow it and in 175 towns across the state it is not allowed. In 175 towns the public is gagged and not allowed to speak to their town board. There are also villages, cities and counties, where the public is not allowed to speak.

The coalition reviewed the websites and meeting minutes of every town in NY State (933), to determine if they allowed public comments at their regular board meetings. This data provides the most comprehensive overview of public participation in town meetings ever done.
Through visual charts, the report (available below) shows:

  • 93% of towns have a website;
  • 78% of towns allow the public to comment at their meetings, 22% do not;
  • 51% of towns have public comments occur at the beginning of their meetings, 28% at the end of their meetings and 21% do both;
  • 83% of towns do not impose a time limit for speaking, 17% do, with the average limit being 3 minutes;
  • 80% of towns allow the public to speak regarding agenda and non-agenda items, 6% limit comments to agenda items only and 14% we could not determine;

Report Recommendations
Public comments should occur at the beginning of a meeting before any voting on agenda items occurs;
The public should be allowed to speak regarding agenda items and non-agenda items; At a minimum, the public should be allowed to speak for at least three minutes;

There should be no requirement to register to speak several days or hours before a meeting occurs;
People should not be required to provide their name, address or topic they plan to discuss prior to speaking;

Any established rules for speaking should be in writing, made available to the public and applied equally to all;

Meeting minutes should reflect what public comments occurred at a meeting;

The New York State Legislature should amend the Open Meetings Law to mandate that public bodies must provide an opportunity for the public to speak at their meetings. 13 states mandate hearing from the public at meetings (Alaska, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont).

We are pleased to report that Assemblymember Carrie Woerner, has expressed interest in sponsoring such a bill.