Local officials now required to allow public comment at all Metro meetings

It happens every year and on July 1, 2023 new laws will hit the books in State of Tennessee. Several of them affect what goes on at the Metro Council, Moore County Board of Education, Metro Planning Commission, Metro Utility Board and other public meetings that take place here in Lynchburg.

Public Chapter No. 300 (PC 300) introduces an important change to the Tennessee Open Meetings Act, otherwise known as the Sunshine Law. It stipulates that every local governing body must “reserve a period for public comment” at every scheduled public meeting to allow members of the general public to be heard on any agenda item. It includes any body which requires a quorum to deliberate on a decision.

Currently, members of the general public can only be heard at public meetings in one of two situations: the body designates time for a public hearing prior to the regular meeting or a member of the general public is recognized by the chair during a regular meeting.

Under the new law, members of the general public who wish to speak at a local public meeting must address an item already on the current agenda. If their concern involves a subject not on the current agenda, they must contact the council, board, or committee prior to the meeting to have their item added to the agenda.

The law states that the governing body in question may put “reasonable restrictions on the period for public comment” such as length of time per speaker or the limiting the total number of speakers. Local bodies can also require advanced notice of the desire to offer comments at a public meeting. However, the “governing body shall take all practicable steps to ensure that opposing viewpoints are represented fairly.”

There are a few exceptions including disciplinary hearings or meetings where there are no actionable items on the agenda. Advisory meetings with attorneys regarding anticipated or ongoing litigation are also exempt from the Tennessee Open Meetings Act, but actual decisions regarding litigation must be made at an open public meeting. To view a complete copy of Public Chapter No. 300 follow this link.

Another new law is Public Chapter 213 (PC 213), which went into effect on April 25. It state that local legislative bodies such as the Metro Council must post their agenda in a public place at least 48 hours prior to the scheduled meeting.

If you’d like to learn more about open meeting laws in the State of Tennessee, the University of Tennessee’s County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS) electronic library offers lots of good info. You can find it here. The State Comptroller’s office also offers a set of frequently asked questions, which you can access here. •

{The Lynchburg Times is an independently-owned, community newspaper located in Lynchburg, Tennessee the home of The Jack Daniel Distillery. We focus on public service, non-partisan, rural journalism. We cover the Metro Moore County government, local tourism, Moore County schools, high school sports, Motlow State Community College, as well as whiskey industry news and regional and state stories that affect our readers.}

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