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Open meetings and public hearings

The terms public meeting, public forum and public hearing are often used interchangeably, however there are important differences in terms of their format, purpose, and level of formality.

Public Meeting
A public meeting is generally defined as a meeting in which business is conducted by a public body like local government, a school district or hospital.
An open meeting or “public meeting” means the public may be present. However, it does not necessarily mean the public can speak at any time during the meeting.
Announced in advance, public/town hall meetings typically follow a more structured format, with agendas and invited speakers planned in advance. A designated leader facilitates the discussion.
Community members need to request specific topic to be included on the agenda before the meeting takes place, or may address the board during a specific time for public comment. Speaking time is usually limited to a short, specific amount of time.

Public Hearing
There are various state and federal laws that require government agencies to hold public consultations before implementing decisions that will affect the general public or use government funds.
A public hearing is a special type of public meeting for the purpose of the governing body to receive public comment, although it is not typically a discussion.
A public hearing is defined as an open gathering of officials and citizens, in which citizens are permitted to offer comments but officials are not obliged to respond publicly, according to an article written by political scientists Abby Williamson and Archon Fung, titled “Public Deliberation: Where We Are and Where Can We Go?”
Williamson and Fung state that “the public hearing is perhaps the most widespread venue for public participation in the United States, used by all levels of government for a variety of purposes.”
As a way to gather public opinions and concerns on issues, public hearings are typically organized before a local government entity, or organization makes a decision or takes action.
Usually, the agency holding the hearing must notify all the parties they believe to be interested and affected by the outcome of the decision.
The public hearing is then made open to the public, and participants are self-selected members of the community who wish to speak. Representatives from the government agency or organization are also typically present.

Public Forum
When different groups of people are interested in working together to explore options or identify and solve problems, a public forum is typically utilized.
A public forum is usually less formal, and allows for open discussion among participants.
It could be organized as a public debate, discussion, or community gathering where individuals can express their opinions, concerns, or ideas related to specific issue or policy.
Public forums are open to everyone in the community. This type of public meeting offers people a chance to express their views about key issues along with potential solutions.
Generally speaking, public forums are led by a discussion leader or group facilitator who is known and respected, neutral on the topic, and has good listening and group process skills.
Time is typically allowed to address issues and concerns, barriers and resistance to addressing the issues and concerns, community resources, and alternatives and solutions to the issue(s) identified.
At the conclusion of the public forum, a summary and preliminary plan of action are often drafted along with next steps.
Action items are announced and the next meeting is often communicated.
Forums are generally heavily publicized as widely as possible. Meeting organizers often use fliers, advertisements, public announcements, press releases, and social media to try to encourage community participation.

Local Public Meetings
While local city council meetings, board of supervisors meetings, hospital board, and board of education meetings are all open to the public, community members need to request specific topics they would like included on the agenda before the meeting takes place. Otherwise, you can address the board during time set aside for public communication, but comments are generally limited to five minutes.
Generally, meeting agendas are drafted a week in advance of the meeting and posted in a place easily accessible to the public.

For example, in Mount Ayr, the city typically posts their meeting agenda on the city hall door. The Mount Ayr City Council usually meets the first and third Monday of every month at 5:30 p.m. in the council chambers (enter on west side of the building).The mayor and city council welcome comments from the public on any subject pertaining to city business, including items on this agenda. You are asked to state your name and address for the record, and to limit your remarks to 5 minutes so others may be given the opportunity to speak.

The Mount Ayr Community School Board of Education meets the second Monday of every month at 5:30 p.m. at the high school (enter on west side of the building).
The school board agenda is posted on the main entrance doors of the high school building.
Citizens or organizations in attendance may speak to board members for three minutes each during time set aside for correspondence and communication, or you can send written comments to school administration to be read during this time.

Individuals who wish for an item to be placed on the board agenda may submit a valid petition to the board. For a petition to be valid, it must be signed by at least 500 eligible electors of the district, or ten percent of the individuals who voted in the last school election, whichever number is lower.

Ringgold County Hospital Board meetings are held the fourth Monday of every month at 5:30 p.m. in conference room C by the cafeteria (enter at the southeast corner of the building). Their agenda is posted on the main entrance door.

The Ringgold County Board of Supervisors meet regularly on Monday beginning at 9:00 a.m. and agendas are posted on first floor bulletin boards.
All persons are invited to take an active role in Ringgold County government. Agenda appointments will need to be scheduled through the Ringgold County Auditor’s Office in person or by calling 641-464-3244.
You may address the board (without an appointment) while they are in session, if you are willing to wait your turn for an unscheduled break in agenda.
Most agendas can also be found on the respective organization web site as well.

The Mount Ayr Record News and Diagonal Progress do receive the agendas for all Ringgold County Board of Supervisors, Hospital Board, School Board, and City of Mount Ayr meetings at least 1-2 business days in advance of the meetings. However, due to the nature of our print deadlines, we do not publish the agendas in the newspaper as we receive them after the weekly issue is published, which would announce the meeting.

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