After the Orange County Transportation Authority changed its policy for speakers at its meetings, we said we’d check with other agencies and keep you posted on similar violations of California’s open-meetings law.
Check the Orange County Board of Supervisors’ website under “Speaker Guidelines” and you’ll find a pdf file that says, in part, “persons wishing to speak on an agenda item must complete a speaker request form located at the sides and rear of the hearing room near the agendas.”
Yes, the supervisors want to know your name before you step up to the microphone. And when you start to speak, the board wants you to “state your name and city of residence for the record before you begin your presentation.”
“We don’t enforce it,” said Susan Novak, chief deputy clerk of the board. “If anyone chooses not to, we honor their request. We’ve had people say ‘call me anonymous.'”
But, she added, having members of the public who wish to speak give their names is “what we prefer to facilitate the meetings.”
Open government expert Terry Francke says what might seem convenient to officials is a violation of the law.
“You don’t have to enforce what appears to be a mandate in order to chill persons from coming forward,” Francke, who is general counsel for Californians Aware and Voice of OC’s open government consultant, has said.
“There’s no legitimate reason I can think of for requiring speakers to give their names,” Francke said. “And I believe doing so contravenes both the Brown Act and the First Amendment, under which anonymous speech about public issues is a fundamental right recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court.”
After Voice of OC wrote about OCTA’s blue speaker cards, the agency tweaked its policy and this month will begin informing members of the public that they do not have to provide identifying information when speaking at OCTA board meetings.
We’ll let you know what, if anything, the supervisors do and will continue to check on other agencies. Let us know if you’re told to give your name before speaking at a public meeting.
— TRACY WOOD