As part of its continued focus to provide resources to school board presidents, the New Jersey School Boards Association is answering questions through its monthly Board President’s Corner column. Our next question is below.

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Question: How can you keep a meeting on schedule if the public wants to comment extensively on various topics?

Many boards designate a public comment period early in the meeting where comments should address only items that are on the agenda. The board then holds a public comment period after the its official business is finished, when the public is encouraged to speak on any topic.

Typically, the board president will read a statement at the beginning of the first comment session, saying something like: “We ask that you confine your comments during the open public comment period to agenda items in order to give the board sufficient time to complete its business. When the board has completed its agenda business this evening, there will be a second opportunity for members of the public to comment on any topic they would like to speak about.”

NJSBA recommends that the public comment period have limits for each individual speaker as well as for the entire public comment period (both the agenda-item comment period and the later one). Those time limits should be strictly observed. They must also be uniform – regardless of who is speaking or the topic, the designated time limit must be observed.

Most people at a board meeting will observe the request to speak only about agenda items in the first comment period. Boards should seek board attorney advice prior to stopping members of the public from speaking if friendly reminders about board meeting procedures go unheeded. The board president should calmly remind members of the public that off-topic comments should be addressed later in the meeting to be fair to those who want to address the board about an agenda item.