Date: 8/30/02 11:02AM
Subject: Indicating name and address at meeting
I have received your letter in which you expressed objection to a requirement that those who choose speak at meetings of a village board of trustees must identify themselves by name and address. In this regard, I do not recall having prepared a written opinion dealing directly with the matter. However, others deal with related issues. It is suggested that you might review opinions on our website in the opinions rendered under the Open Meetings Law. You can click on to "P" and scroll down to "Public Participation"; advisory opinion #3295 is closest to the issue that you raised.
In brief, it has been advised that the Open Meetings Law is silent with respect to the ability of those in attendance to speak or otherwise participate. Therefore, a public body, such as a village board of trustees, is not obliged to permit the public to speak at its meetings. Many public bodies, however, authorize public participation, and in that event, it has been advised that they do so by means of reasonable rules that treat members of the public equally.
With respect to the possibility of distinguishing among those who may speak, since the Open Meetings Law provides the general public with the right to attend meetings, it has been advised that if a public body permits members of the public to speak, it must permit any person to do so, irrespective of the residence of the speaker. It follows in my view, that a person cannot be required to specify his or her residence as a condition that must be met before he or she may speak. Further, in many instances, individuals, due to concerns associated with safety, security and privacy, have valid reasons for choosing not to provide their residence addresses.
A similar contention may be offered in my opinion regarding the disclosure of the speaker's name. Again, if any person may attend a meeting and a public body cannot prohibit a person from atteding due to his or her status or interest, the names of those who attend are irrelevant to the right to attend. That being, so I do not believe that a person should be required to give his or her name as a condition precedent to speaking. There may be a variety of reasons for wanting to avoid identifying oneself. For instance, if a parent of a student wants to describe a problem before a board of education, providing a name would likely identify the student. If a member of the public seeks to bring forward a complaint or allegation to a village board, identifying himself or herself could result in personal hardship.
In short, I do not believe that a person can be compelled to identify himself or herself in order to speak in the same manner as others at meetings.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
NYS Committee on Open Government
41 State Street
Albany, NY 12231
(518) 474-2518 - Phone
(518) 474-1927 - Fax
Website - www.dos.ny.gov/coog/coogwww.html