Dear Dinosaur Advice Column

Got questions about Robert's Rules of Order? Ann Macfarlane is a dinosaur who knows her stuff. She explains the complexity of Robert's Rules so it makes sense. She loves hearing from readers with their questions about Robert's Rules of Order.

Citizen attacks fellow citizen, swears – what can be done?

Dear Dinosaur:  During public comment at a virtual meeting, one citizen was making blasphemous comments about another citizen in attendance, was escalating in emotion, and calling him names and added a few cuss words.  Then he pulls out pictures and past memos, etc.  I’m clear about allowing the citizen his freedom of speech.  He can rant and rave all he wants on any topic, but when it gets personal, do we have the right or obligation to ask the ranting citizen to calm down and speak respectfully?  If ignored, can we mute the citizen until he can calm down, and if not, eject from the meeting?

Answer: The courts have found that local government bodies may regulate the time, place, and manner of public comment sessions during their meetings, as long as the regulations are viewpoint-neutral. It is reasonable for a council to require that comment be relevant to the work of the body. Such a policy should be in writing and should be clearly stated before the comment session begins.

In my view, making personal attacks on an individual is not relevant to the body’s work. If that happens and the citizen doesn’t stop on request, you have the right to mute the citizen. Most online platforms make this easy to accomplish. If you can’t mute them, your attorney can advise whether you have the right to eject the citizen from the meeting. As always, nothing in this answer constitutes legal advice.

See these articles for more information:

Guidelines for Public Comment in Local Government

Danger Will Robinson! Public comment ahead!

Dear Dinosaur provides simple, practical answers to questions about Robert’s Rules and parliamentary procedure. Send your questions to Dear Dinosaur here. Our answers are based on Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised, 12th edition. As always, nothing in this post constitutes legal or business advice. For specific questions, seek a qualified authority.

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Ann Macfarlane

Ann G. Macfarlane is a Professional Registered Parliamentarian. She offers an interactive and user-friendly way to master the key points for effective, efficient and fair meetings. Her background as a diplomat and Russian translator enables her to connect with elected officials and nonprofit board directors and give them the tools they need for success. She is the author of Mastering Council Meetings: A guidebook for elected officials and local governments.


  1. AL SMITH on March 14, 2021 at 7:01 pm

    In response to the above issue it is the chair’s responsibility to maintain order and peaceful dialogue. It is acceptable to disagree but with respect to all in attendance wheather it be in virtual audience or in person. It is aasumed by this writer that the session above was in a “zoom” audience and thus it is the chairman’s duty to mute that individuals comments. I will temper this statement that he/she has been alerted to the rules of peacful decorum.

    • Ann Macfarlane on March 15, 2021 at 9:44 am

      Al, yes, alerting to the rules is critical. Thanks for commenting!