“Men of few words are the best men.” – William Shakespeare, Henry V
A new provision of the Texas Open Meetings Act gives the public the right to speak on items on the agenda at open meetings of certain governmental bodies, including open meetings of a city council, a county commissioners court, a school district board of trustees, or a local workforce development board. Tex. Gov’t Code. Ann § 551.007. According to a recent attorney general opinion, section 551.007 grants governmental bodies discretion to limit when and for how long the public is allowed to speak.
After the new provision took effect in late 2019, the Blanco County Attorney requested an opinion from the Texas Attorney General on the application of section 551.007(b) and (c). In response, the Texas Attorney General issued an opinion that:
(i) a governmental body can hold a single public comment period at the beginning of an open meeting to address all items on the agenda; and
(ii) a governmental body may adopt a rule capping the total amount of time a member of the public has to address all items on the agenda if the rule is reasonable.
Whether a capped period of time is “reasonable” for a speaker to address all desired agenda items will depend on the specific circumstances of the open meeting and would include consideration of factors such as the number of agenda items and their complexity.