Demystifying the art of telling the public what you’re up to.
“I didn’t notice” might be a fine excuse for explaining why you were driving over the speed limit.
But trying to use it after your administration votes to allow a huge multi-family development on the bench will probably land you in a world of trouble. Especially if you mean you didn’t inform the public about it.
Why Public Notice Is Important
Local government works best when elected officials operate transparently and the community is actively engaged. Both of these goals require good communication between the municipality and its residents.
Since the government is doing the public’s business (with the public’s money), it has the responsibility to keep the public in the loop about what’s going on. Public notice is the main way it does this. Without effectively providing public notice, “public” meetings would be virtually empty (more so than normal, that is), and no one would think their local leaders were doing a good job representing them.
When Cities And Towns Should Provide Public Notice
Public notice is required by state law any time a public body—like the City Council or Planning Commission—meets to discuss or act on matters that the public has a right to hear (for a full list of these issues, check out this free civiclinQ training). And every time the municipality holds a public meeting or a public hearing, the public body needs to first provide notice.
In fact, if a municipality holds a public meeting or hearing without providing adequate notice, the resolutions and ordinances passed at that meeting are invalid, and the municipality has to do the process over again (how embarrassing!).
In our post-COVID-19 world, more and more public meetings and hearings are being held in-person and online. And yes, regardless of the format, they require public notice.
Notably, meeting notices need to be provided well ahead of time. Individual meeting notices (agendas) should be provided at least 24 hours before the meeting, though local ordinances may extend the time requirement. Municipalities should also provide annual notices of the regularly scheduled meetings for the upcoming year.
Note: Many clerks have appreciated the time invested in creating a simple table of the timelines required for different types of notice. (Feel free to adapt ours to your local ordinances.)
What Public Notice Looks Like
Official public notices must be provided by the municipality to various sources, such as posted on the Utah Public Notice Website, published in local newspapers, or posted in known public locations (i.e. at the municipality’s main building).
Public notices can also vary in their content and the level of detail included, but at minimum should contain all the vital information that members of the community need to know (a) whether they want to attend the meeting, (b) how to do so, and (c) the matters being heard or decided upon at the meeting.
For example, your notice for a public hearing should include the following:
- A statement that official notice is being given.
- Who the notice is coming from (municipality’s name).
- What is happening (e.g., a public hearing for rezone, conditional use approval, etc.)
- A statement that members of the public are encouraged to come speak their mind on the matter.
- The date, time, and place (and SIMPLIFIED links for how to attend if it’s online).
- A statement that accommodations are available for persons with disabilities.
- A simple agenda.
Working On A New General Plan Or Staff-Initiated Ordinance Update?
Those need to go through the public process (with notice!) too. Ask our team of experts about how to get the best public feedback.
Call Rural Community Consultants today to get expert planning and administration advice to make your community the best it can be.
Want To Learn More?
Check out our online training modules! Note: Rural Community Consultants is able to provide access to specific training modules free of charge, courtesy of the Utah Office of the Property Rights Ombudsman.