September 12, 2013
Dear Mr. Brummel:
We have received your letter concerning a requirement that those who attend meetings identify themselves on a “sign-in sheet.
In this regard, in a variety of contexts, it has been advised that a public body ordinarily cannot require that a person indicate his/her identity as condition precedent to attending an open meeting subject to the Open Meetings Law. In short, section 103 of the OML states that meetings are open to the “general public”. That being so, one’s identity is, in our view, irrelevant to a person’s right to attend.
The opinion to which you referred involved a sign-in sheet used in all circumstances in which persons sought to enter a school building, and not only to those concerning entry to attend a meeting subject to the Open Meetings Law. In that kind of situation and certain others, it has been suggested that a rule or policy requiring those entering a building to sign in would likely found to be reasonable. An example that I have experienced relates to meetings or other events held in large office buildings in New York City where anyone who seeks to enter must provide proof of identity. There may be dozens of offices or units, some governmental, others private, and thousands of people in those buildings. Because of security concerns, and because all who enter must provide identification, as well as the fact that relatively few of those entering would be attending a meeting subject to the OML, I do not believe that a requirement involving proof of identity is any way contrary to law or unreasonable.
On the other hand, if a town or school board meeting is held in the evening, for example, after regular business hours, and a board meeting is the primary event occurring in the building, I do not believe that an individual can be required to show proof of his/her identity in order to attend a meeting subject to the OML. Similarly, when a public body authorizes the public to speak during meetings, it has been advised that it cannot require a person to identify him/herself as a condition precedent to speaking. A parent of a student attending a meeting of a school board might not want to identify him/herself in relation to an issue relating to his/her child; women who are victims of batterers have contacted this office to ask whether they must identify themselves prior to speaking, and we have advised that they cannot be required to do so.
In short, there may be circumstances which, in our view, may warrant persons to identify themselves on a sign-in sheet. As a general matter, however, it has consistently been advised that individuals need not identify themselves as a condition precedent to attending an open meeting of a public body.
Robert J. Freeman