Public Participation

Montana law requires that tax-supported libraries be subject to the Montana Open Meeting Law. The purpose of this law is to ensure that the public has the ability to know how its business is being conducted. The legal requirements for open meetings, however, should be seen as the minimum requirements. From an administrative and community relations point of view, the more open you can make your meetings, the better it will be for the library.

The State Library recommends that public meetings be announced at least a week in advance. An agenda indicating the expected action items should be included with the meeting notice whenever possible.

It is sometimes difficult for trustees to speak candidly with the public or media representatives watching and listening. However, keep in mind that you have been chosen to represent a large number of people. Those who show up at a Board meeting usually represent a very small percentage of your constituents and should not have an undue influence on your actions.

The Board should have a clear policy about regulating the activity of members of the public who attend Board meetings (see sample below). The public participation policy should be easily visible. Consider including it in the meeting notice as well as posting it on the library bulletin board.

Public participation does not mean that the public takes over the meeting. The Board chairperson should welcome public comment at appropriate times, but the amount of time made available for this is at the chairperson's discretion. Remember: Your Board meeting is a meeting conducted in public, not a public meeting. In other words, the public and media are there to watch you work, not to participate.

Guidelines for Effective, Efficient Meetings

Post and use ground rules:

We participate as equals.

We discuss openly and honestly.

We disagree with grace and tact.

We don't hide disagreements or questions.

We stick to the agenda.

We enjoy each other's company.

Sample Public Participation Policy

The ________ Library Board welcomes public input at its meetings. Each agenda item (unless specified otherwise) will be open for public input before the Board deliberates on that item. While it is recommended that anyone wishing to address the Board notify the director at least 48 hours before the meeting so that time may be reserved for such input, it is not absolutely necessary.

Everyone wishing to speak must fill out a form to allow for accurate spelling of names and identification of those speaking on the various items for inclusion in the official minutes of the meeting. The form is available on the table at the rear of the meeting room.

Since time is limited, the Board chair reserves the right to set reasonable time limits for public input on each topic. Normally, a person will be limited to five minutes per agenda item.

During Board deliberation, the public is asked not to make any comments unless responding to a specific question asked by the Board chair.

Thank you for your interest in the library and the Board, and for your assistance in keeping our meetings orderly.