The Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA) allows members of the public who wish to address their local government to add items to the official meeting agenda. This is a positive way to involve residents in their local governments’ decisions. Still, it can add too many issues to the meeting agenda and cause unnecessary delays.
How can government officials address this?
TOMA allows government bodies to put in place “reasonable rules” for the public-comment section of meetings. The rules limit the time an individual of the public is allowed to speak, enabling the government to set a specific time during the meeting for public comments.
Do local governments have to address the public’s comments on agenda items?
No. Members of the government may, but do not have to, address or respond to questions or comments made by the public about an agenda item. Local governments may find it especially helpful, however, not to make a habit of ignoring concerns brought up by the public.
Do local governments have to address the public’s comments on non-agenda items?
Also no. Members of the government are allowed to refrain from responding to non-agenda items. If members of the local government wish to provide some response to a non-agenda item, they may do so. Still, they must limit their response and they cannot deliberate or act on a non-agenda item, as that is voidable under the Texas Open Meetings Act.
Benefits of public comment sessions
There are significant benefits to allowing the public to express themselves during government meetings, but local governments must consider the high value of the public’s input. After all, many government officials who attend these meetings are elected by the very people who attend them.