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Sample Legislation: Decorum at Public Meetings

Decorum at Public Meetings

Do public meetings ever get unruly? The disorderly person may be a member of the public, or it may be a member of the governing body. While meetings follow Robert’s Rules of Order, and local legislation generally requires that decorum be maintained at meetings, more specific guidelines of what constitutes “decorum” might be helpful. We offer sample legislation that requires meetings be free of slanderous, insulting comments and threats of violence. There shall be no references to personalities, no interruptions and no private conversations. Length of time that a member of the public may speak can be limited. The use of cell phones and pagers is restricted as well. Consequences for failure to comply include ejection from the meeting.

Sample Ordinances:

City of Camden, NJ: § 5-9
Township of Lower Merion, PA: §§ 7-11, 7-12
City of Peekskill, NY: Ch. 14
City of Toronto, ON: Ch. 27, Art. V
Township of Union, NJ: Ch. 22

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City of Camden, NJ:


§ 5-9. Rules of Council.

P. Rule XVI: Addressing the Council.

(1) Persons other than Council members may be permitted to address the Council in the proper order of business prescribed by Rule IX. A person present may, upon recognition by the Chair, be heard in the order of business under the heading of "communications and petitions" for a period of five minutes and at such other times as the Council may, by the affirmative vote of 2/3 of those present, specifically permit. No person shall address any remark or question to any specific Council member, nor shall any person be permitted to address the Chair, while a motion is pending. A Council member may, through the chair, respond to any communication or address received pursuant to this rule. [Amended 3-28-1996 by Ord. No. MC-3191]

(2) Except upon consent of the Council, by the affirmative vote of 2/3 of those present, each person addressing the Council pursuant to this Rule XVI shall be required to limit his remarks to three minutes when addressing Council on pending resolutions and five minutes when addressing Council during the other opportunities for public comment provided by these Rules. The Chair may restrict or limit the time allotted to a person whose remarks are repetitive or are not germane to the matter under consideration by Council. He shall at no time engage in any personally offensive or abusive remarks. The Chair shall call any speaker to order who violates any provision of this Rule XVI. [Amended 6-28-1999 by Ord. No. MC-3493]

Q. Rule XVII: Decorum.

(1) Each member of the Council shall cooperate with the Chair in preserving order and decorum, and no member shall, by conversation or otherwise, delay or interrupt the proceedings of the Council, nor disturb any member while speaking, or fail to abide by the orders of the Council or its President, except as specifically permitted by these Rules of Council.

(2) Any person who shall disturb the peace of the Council, make impertinent or slanderous remarks or conduct himself in a boisterous manner while addressing the Council shall be forthwith barred by the presiding officer from further audience before the Council, except that if the speaker shall submit to proper order under these rules, permission for him to continue may be granted by a majority vote of the Council.

(3) The Department of Police shall, upon request of the Chair, designate a member of the Department of Police to serve as Sergeant at Arms at Council meetings. The designated police officer shall carry out all orders and instructions given by the presiding officer, or any Council member, for the purpose of maintaining order and decorum of the meeting. Furthermore, the Municipal Clerk is directed to contact the Chief of Police to inform the Department of Police of the time and date of the meeting to be held. The Department of Police shall take any and all appropriate steps within the parameters of law, including the use of electronic equipment, to secure the Council chambers and provide adequate protection for the citizens and members of City Council attending said meetings. [Amended 3-28-1996 by Ord. No. MC-3191]

(4) Each speaker will sign and give a brief description of what he/she will comment upon prior to speaking. Time cannot be shared or allotted with other speakers. The allotted time of five minutes shall include and commence from the beginning of the speaker's remarks and includes any time that passes during questioning or colloquy between the speaker and the Chair or City Council. In the event a person representing a class or group seeks to speak on behalf of that class, group or organization, additional time may be granted to that person by the Council Chairperson. [Added 3-28-1996 by Ord. No. MC-3191]

(5) City Council meetings shall be conducted in a courteous manner. Citizens and Council members will be allowed to state their positions in an atmosphere free of slander, threats of violence or the use of Council as a forum for politics. Sufficient warnings may be given by the Chair at any time during the remarks and, in the event that any individual shall violate the rules of decorum heretofore set forth, the Chairperson may then cut off comment or debate. At the discretion of the Chairperson, light signals may be used to display the commencement of the time for speaking and a warning light may be flashed to show that the appropriate time has passed. A red light will signal that there is no longer time. [Added 3-28-1996 by Ord. No. MC-3191]

(6) Each member of the Council and every member of the public shall be required to utilize a silent alert mode on or to mute the sound emitted from all electronic devices in their possession (including but not limited to cellular telephones, pagers, radios, personal data assistants, and hand-held or portable computers), during all City Council proceedings subject to the Open Public Meetings Act, N.J.S.A. 10:4-6 et seq. Law enforcement and emergency services personnel acting in their official capacity shall be exempt from the provisions described herein. [Added 6-13-2002 by Ord. No. MC-3756]

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Township of Lower Merion, PA:


§ 7-11. Procedure for conducting meetings.

  1. At the time appointed for any meeting of the Board, the President or, in his/her absence, the designated presiding officer shall take the Chair and call the meeting to order. If a quorum is present, as provided in this chapter, the presiding officer shall proceed with the order of business prescribed for the meeting.

  2. The roll of members shall be called alphabetically, except that the President shall be called last.

  3. The presiding officer shall announce all decisions of the Board and shall decide all questions of order without debate, subject, however, to an appeal of any Board member. Any ruling by the presiding officer may be overruled by a majority of the members present.

  4. Every member of the Board desiring to speak shall address the Chair and, upon recognition by the presiding officer, shall confine remarks to the question under debate, avoiding all indecorous language or reference to personalities. A member of the Board, once recognized, shall not be interrupted when speaking unless it is for the purpose of calling such person to order. If a member of the Board, while speaking, is called to order, that person shall cease speaking until the question of order is determined. When two or more members request the floor at the same time, the presiding officer shall name the one entitled to the floor. [Amended 12-18-1996 by Ord. No. 3435]

  5. The presiding officer shall be responsible for the orderly conduct of business at each Board meeting and shall preserve order and decorum at such meetings.

  6. While the Board is in session, the members of the Board must preserve order and decorum, and no Board member shall, by conversation or otherwise, delay or interrupt the proceedings or the peace of the Board or disturb any member of the Board while speaking or refuse to obey the orders of the presiding officer or of the Board except as otherwise herein provided.

  7. No person, except township officials, their representatives and representatives of news-gathering agencies, shall be permitted within the rail in front of the Board Room without the consent of the Board.

§ 7-12. Public participation; enforcement of decorum.

  1. A citizen shall be provided a reasonable opportunity to address the Board on any agenda item or any public matter in which the township has jurisdiction or authority. This privilege shall occur during the part of the agenda entitled "Public Comment" and "Public Privilege of the Floor." [Amended 12-18-1996 by Ord. No. 3435]
  2. In the case of a nonagenda item, citizens are requested, but not required, to present the matter to a member of the Board or administrative staff in an attempt to resolve the matter beforehand.
  3. The presiding officer, with the approval of the majority of the Commissioners present, may impose a time limit during which each person may speak, giving equal time to all. If the presiding officer determines that there is not sufficient time at the meeting, the comment period may be deferred to the next regular meeting or special meeting occurring in advance of the next meeting. [Amended 12-18-1996 by Ord. No. 3435]
  4. When a group of persons wishes to address the Board on the same subject matter, it shall be proper for the presiding officer to request that a spokesperson be chosen by the group to address the Board and to limit the number of persons addressing the Board on the same matter so as to avoid unnecessary repetition.
  5. Any person making offensive, insulting, threatening, insolent, slanderous or obscene remarks or who becomes boisterous or who makes threats against any person or against public order and security while in the Board Room shall be forthwith removed at the direction of the presiding officer from further audience at the meeting, unless permission to continue is granted by the majority vote of the Board members present.
  6. Enforcement of decorum. The Superintendent of Police shall be ex officio Sergeant at Arms of the Board. He/she shall carry out all orders and instructions given him/her by the presiding officer for the purpose of maintaining order and decorum in the Board Room. Upon instructions of the presiding officer, it shall be the duty of any police officer present to eject any such person from the Board Room or place him/her under arrest, or both.

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City of Peekskill, NY:


Chapter 14

[HISTORY: Adopted by the Common Council of the City of Peekskill 3-8-1999. Amendments noted where applicable.]

§ 14-1. Effect on Charter.

These rules of procedure shall be supplemental to the Peekskill City Charter. Any conflict between these rules of procedure and the Peekskill City Charter shall be resolved in accordance with the Peekskill City Charter.

§ 14-2. Regular meetings; Committee of the Whole. [Amended 5-8-2000]

  1. The Common Council shall hold regular meetings on the first, second, third and fourth Monday of each month, except the months of July and August. All such regular meetings shall be open to the public except those portions thereof held in executive session. During the regular meetings held on the first and third Monday of each month, the Common Council shall sit as a Committee of the Whole in a work session. During the regular meetings held on the second and fourth Monday of each month, the Common Council shall sit, for a portion thereof, as a Committee of the Whole in a work session and, for a portion thereof, in its full capacity as Common Council. Committee of the Whole work sessions shall be held in the office of the City Manager at City Hall unless otherwise designated by the Common Council. All other Common Council meetings shall be held in the Council Chamber unless otherwise designated by the Common Council. The time of commencement of all meetings shall be set by the Common Council from time to time, and a listing thereof shall be posted on the bulletin board in the lobby of City Hall and made available to the public in the office of the City Clerk at least three days before any meeting scheduled thereon.

  2. Any deviation of the foregoing subsection shall be determined by the Common Council. The Committee of the Whole shall be considered a standing committee.

§ 14-3. Special meetings.

Special meetings of the Common Council are all those Council meetings other than regular meetings. A special meeting may be called by the Mayor or any two Council members upon notice to the entire Council. Notice shall be given by telephone, in person or in writing so that it is received at least two days prior to the date fixed for the meeting.

§ 14-4. Quorum.

A quorum shall be required to conduct business. A quorum of the seven members of the Council shall be four. In the absence of a quorum, a lesser number may adjourn and compel the attendance of the absent members.

§ 14-5. Order of motions; rules of order.

  1. When a question, motion or resolution is before the Common Council, the following motions shall be received and have precedence as follows:

    (1) For an adjournment.
    (2) To lay on the table.
    (3) To postpone to a certain date.
    (4) To commit to a standing committee
    (5) To commit to a special committee
    (6) To commit to the Committee of the Whole
    (7) To amend.
    (8) To reconsider.
    (9) To postpone indefinitely.

  2. Except as herein provided, the proceedings of the Common Council shall be governed by Robert's Rules of Order Revised.

§ 14-6. Executive sessions.

Executive sessions shall be held in accordance with the New York State Public Officers Law, § 105.

§ 14-7. Agendas.

  1. The City Manager shall prepare or cause to be prepared an agenda for all regular meetings of the Common Council, which shall be in detail form so as to provide the Mayor and members of the Common Council with information concerning business to be transacted at the meeting. Said agenda shall include any resolutions or appointments submitted by the Mayor or members of the Common Council, provided that same shall have been discussed at a meeting of the Committee of the Whole prior to the regular meeting for which any such resolutions or appointments shall be included on the agenda. The Mayor and members of the Common Council shall submit copies of all resolutions or appointments to the City Manager in sufficient time in advance so that the agenda may be prepared before the time specified herein. The agenda for each meeting shall be prepared and served either personally or by mail upon the Mayor and each member of the Common Council on or around 5:00 p.m. on each Friday of the week preceding the date of the regular meeting. Copies of the agenda are to be sent at the same time to the press and radio.
  2. No resolution or business shall be transacted at the regular meeting of the Common Council unless such resolution or business appears upon the agenda of the meeting and members of the Common Council have received the agenda of the meeting within the same time specified herein. By consent of a majority of the members of the Common Council, this provision may be dispensed with so that the business or resolution may be considered and acted upon at such meeting even though not appearing on the agenda.
  3. The City Manager shall prepare or cause to be prepared an agenda for all meetings of the Committee of the Whole. On this agenda shall appear all matters which have been referred by the Common Council or the City Manager to the Committee of the Whole. This agenda shall be delivered to the Mayor and the members of the Common Council at least two days before the meeting of the Committee of the Whole.

§ 14-8. Voting.

Pursuant to the General City Law, each member of the Common Council shall have one vote. A majority of the totally authorized voting power is necessary to pass a matter unless otherwise specified by state law. A vote upon any question shall be taken by ayes and nays, and the names of the members present and their votes shall be entered in the minutes.

§ 14-9. Minutes.

  1. Minutes of all public meetings shall be taken by the Clerk. Minutes shall consist of a record or summary of all motions, proposals, resolutions and any other matter formally voted upon and the vote thereon. Minutes shall also include the following:

    (1) Name of the Common Council.
    (2) Date, place and time of meeting.
    (3) Notation of presence or absence of Council members and time of arrival or departure if different from time of call to order and adjournment.
    (4) Record of communications presented to Council.
    (5) Record of reports made by the Council or other city personnel.
    (6) Time of adjournment.
    (7) Signature of Clerk or person who took the minutes if not the Clerk.

  2. Minutes need not contain a summary of the discussion leading to action taken or include verbatim comments unless a majority of the Council shall resolve to have the Clerk do so. Amendments to the minutes shall require Council approval.

§ 14-10. Order of business.

  1. The order of business shall be:

    (1) Call to order.
    (2) Roll call.
    (3) Reading and approval of minutes of previous meeting.
    (4) Statements by citizens desiring to be heard (first segment).
    (5) Communications.
    (6) Department and City Manager reports.
    (7) Reports of Standing Committee.
    (8) Reports of Special Committee.
    (9) Old business.
    (10) New business.
    (11) Statements by citizens desiring to be heard (second segment).
    (12) Adjournment.

  2. The order of business need not be followed if the Mayor determines that it is necessary to deviate.

§ 14-11. Presiding officer; privileges.

The Mayor shall preside at meetings. In the Mayor's absence the Deputy Mayor shall preside. The presiding officer may debate, move and take other action that may be taken by other members of the Council.

§ 14-12. Public comments; authority of presiding officer; guidelines. [Amended 1-24-2000]

The Mayor or, in his or her absence, the Deputy Mayor or his or her designee shall be the presiding officer of all meetings. The presiding officer of each meeting shall have, to the fullest extent provided by New York State law, the sole authority to regulate public comment at any meeting as he or she, in his or her sole discretion, shall see fit, including, but not limited to, the authority to set priority for topics of comment, to recognize persons to make comment, to extend or limit the time for any person to make comment and to declare any person to be out of order for failure to follow his or her directives in this regard. In governing the meeting and regulating public comment the presiding officer shall consider, but shall not be strictly bound by, the following guidelines:

  1. The public shall be allowed to speak during the period of the meeting designated as "Statements by Citizens Desiring to be Heard," or at such other time as a majority of the Council shall allow, or at public hearings on local laws, zoning laws and the city budget, or any other time required by state law or City Charter. Speakers must stand. Speakers are requested to give their name, address and organization, if any. Speakers must be recognized by the presiding officer. During the first segment of the meeting designated "Statements by Citizens Desiring to be Heard," speakers may speak only once and will be advised by the City Clerk when three minutes have expired. Speakers are requested to conclude their remarks at that time. Speakers who address specific items on the agenda shall be given preference to speak unless the presiding officer gives other persons priority. The first segment will end no later than one hour after commencement in order to allow the city business to begin in a timely and reasonable manner. Further questions or statements can be carried over to the second segment. During the second segment of the meeting designated "Statements by Citizens Desiring to be Heard," speakers are requested to limit their remarks to five minutes and will be advised by the City Clerk when five minutes have expired. Speakers are requested to conclude their remarks at that time. Each "citizen to be heard" segment is intended to afford citizens an opportunity to (express opinions and to bring important matters to the attention of the Common Council. Although they may, nothing herein shall require the Mayor or the Council to answer questions or engage in debate at any Common Council meeting.

  2. All remarks shall be addressed to the Council as a body and not to any member thereof. Speakers shall observe the commonly accepted rules of courtesy, decorum, dignity and good taste. Interested parties or their representatives may address the Council by written communications. Written communications shall be delivered to the Clerk or his or her designee.

§ 14-13. Use of recording equipment.

  1. All members of the public and all public officials are allowed to tape or video record public meetings. Recording is not allowed during executive sessions. The recording should be done in a manner which does not interfere with the meeting.

  2. The Mayor may make the determination that the recording is being done in an intrusive manner, taking into consideration, but not limited to, brightness of lights, distance from the deliberations of the City Council, size of the equipment and the ability of the public to still participate in the meeting. If the Mayor makes the determination that the recording is intrusive and has the effect of interfering with the meeting, the Mayor may request an accommodation to avoid the interference and, if not complied with, may ask the individual to leave the meeting room.

§ 14-14. Adjournments.

Meetings shall be adjourned by motion.

§ 14-15. Penalties for offenses.

Any members of the public who violate the rules of procedure set forth in this chapter shall be subject to the penalties specified in § C43-a of the City Charter.

§ 14-16. Amendments to rules of procedure.

The foregoing procedures may be amended from time to time by a majority vote of the Council.

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City of Toronto, ON:


Order and Decorum and Conduct of Members

§ 27-14. Chair to maintain order.

Subject to being overruled by a majority vote of the members, which vote shall be taken without debate, or comment, the Chair:

  1. Shall maintain order and preserve the decorum of the meeting.

  2. Shall rule upon points of order, points of procedure, points of privilege and points of personal privilege, without debate or comment.

  3. Shall rule upon all other procedural matters.

  4. If considered necessary because of grave disorder, shall adjourn or suspend the meeting for a specified time.

  5. Shall determine which member has the right to speak.

  6. Shall ascertain that all members who wish to speak on a motion have spoken and that the members are ready to vote, and shall then put the vote.

  7. Shall rule whether a motion or proposed amendment is in order.

  8. May call a member to order.

§ 27-15. Conduct of members.

  1. Every member, while speaking on any matter, or asking any questions, shall stand and address the Chair, unless prevented by physical disability.

  2. No member shall:

    (1) Speak disrespectfully of any member of the Royal Family, the Governor General, the Lieutenant Governor of any province, any member of Council or any employees of the Corporation. [Amended 1998-06-03 by By-law No. 276-1998]

    (2) Engage in private conversation while in the Council Chamber in such manner as to interrupt the proceedings of the Council.

    (3) Leave his or her seat or make any noise or disturbance while a vote is being taken and until the result of the vote is announced.

    (4) Use offensive words or unparliamentary language in or against the Council or against any member.

    (5) Speak on any subject other than the subject in debate.

    (6) Where a matter has been discussed in camera, and where the matter remains confidential, disclose the content of the matter or the substance of deliberations of the in camera meeting.

    (7) Disobey the rules of the Council or a decision of the Chair or of the Council on questions of order or practice or upon the interpretation of the rules of the Council; and in case a member persists in any such disobedience after having been called to order by the Chair:

    (a) The Chair shall immediately put the question, no amendment, adjournment or debate being allowed, that such member be ordered to leave the Council Chamber for the remainder of the meeting of the Council. [Amended 2000-10-05 by By-law No. 869-2000]

    (b) If the question carries, the Chair will order the member to leave the Council Chamber for the remainder of the meeting of the Council.

    (c) If the member advises the Clerk that the member wishes to apologize to Council, the Clerk will inform the Chair, who will permit the member to do so, and with Council’s consent, the member may return to his or her seat.

§ 27-16. Visitors during Council meetings.

  1. No person, except members, the Clerk and officials authorized by the Clerk, the Chair or the Council, shall be allowed on the floor of Council.
  2. No person shall display signs or placards, applaud participants in debate or engage in conversation or other behaviour which may disrupt the proceedings of Council.
  3. No person, except a member, may address the Council, except by invitation of the Chair or Council.
  4. No person shall be permitted to use a cellular telephone in either the Council Chamber or Committee Rooms while meetings are in progress, and cellular telephones shall not be permitted in the Council Chamber or Committee Rooms during meetings unless turned off. [Added 1998-07-31 by By-law No. 531-1998; amended 2000-10-05 by By-law No. 869-2000]

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Township of Union, NJ:


Chapter 22

Rules of Decorum
[Adopted 3-27-1990 by Ord. No. 4081 (Ch. 22, Art. I of the 1986 Code)]

§ 22-1. Rules applicable to Township Committee members.

Members of the Township Committee shall observe order and decorum during Township Committee meetings. A member of the Township Committee shall neither, by conversation or otherwise, delay or interrupt the proceedings of the Committee nor disturb any member while speaking nor refuse to obey the orders of the Chairman. Township Committee members shall inform the Chairman before leaving their seats during a Committee meeting.

§ 22-2. Township staff.

Members of the Township staff shall observe the same rules of order and decorum applicable to the Township Committee in § 22-1 above.

§ 22-3. Defamatory and threatening language prohibited.

Any person(s) making personal, defamatory or profane remarks or who willfully utters loud, threatening or abusive language or engages in any disorderly conduct which disturbs or disrupts the orderly conduct of any meeting shall be called to order by the Chairman. If such conduct continues, the Chairman of the Township Committee, at his discretion, may order such person removed from that meeting by the Sergeant at Arms.

§ 22-4. Length of presentation; governmental issues.

Persons addressing the Township Committee shall be allowed a maximum of five minutes for their presentations and may comment on any governmental issue that a member of the public feels may be of concern to the residents of the community.

§ 22-5. Disorderly conduct.

No person in the audience shall engage in disorderly conduct such as handclapping, stamping of feet, whistling, using profane language, shouting or other similar demonstrations which may disturb the peace and order of the Township Committee meeting.

§ 22-6. Repeated disturbance; removal from meeting.

All persons shall, at the request of the Chairman, be silent. If, after receiving a warning from the Chairman, a person persists in disturbing the meeting, the Chairman may order that person to leave the meeting. If he does not remove himself, the Chairman may order the Sergeant at Arms to remove him.

§ 22-7. Sergeant at Arms.

The Chief of Police, or such member of the Department of Police as the Chairman may designate, shall be Sergeant at Arms at the Township Committee meetings. The Sergeant at Arms shall carry out all orders given by the Chairman for the purpose of maintaining order and decorum at the Township Committee meeting. On the instruction of the Chairman, the Sergeant at Arms shall remove from the meeting any person who disturbs the proceedings of the Committee.

§ 22-8. Resisting removal.

Any person who resists removal by the Sergeant at Arms shall be charged with violating N.J.S.A. 2C:33-8, Disrupting meetings and processions.

§ 22-9. Recording, taping or photography.

There shall be no recording, taping or photography of any Township Committee meeting by any means whatsoever without the express prior approval of the Chairman of the Township Committee.

§ 22-10. Rules of conduct.

Township Committee meetings shall be conducted pursuant to Robert's Rules of Order.

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