Are neighborhood association meetings public forums? Yes and no.

Tuesday, Aug. 21, 1:20 p.m.: NRC just spoke to Conrad Damian, the President of the SOAR neighborhood association, and asked what SOAR’s policy is on attendance/participation by non-members at what would otherwise be private association meetings. His candid response was that he wasn’t sure… they’ve never needed one!

We can help here. The short answer is that any association of private citizens can do what it decides is in its best interest. That could be inviting the public, excluding the public, or something in between.

Typically, neighborhood association meetings are not open forums like Council meetings or meetings of other government agencies where the public is given official notice of their right to attend. Rather, attendance by non-members is generally a matter of privilege or invitation.

When meetings feature speakers or topics of intense interest outside the organization, that can attract a level of outside participation that the organization is not accustomed to. And while it is true that most associations welcome any guests regardless of what neighborhood they live in (SOAR is no exception), some may not.

So what’s an interested neighbor to do? It’s easy – just ask! If you hear that a friend of yours is throwing a party that sounds like one you can’t miss, just asking, “hey, mind if I crash?” will probably get you the invitation you’re looking for.

In the case of tonight’s meeting, SOAR requested a special update from the city on the homeless intake center location at a special SOAR meeting, and the city agreed. Turns out, the meeting is getting some media attention and it’s not quite clear in the news stories that the meeting isn’t the same sort of public forum we’re typically accustomed to. Nevertheless, we have confirmed with SOAR leadership that the public is welcome at tonight’s meeting if this important distinction is communicated and respected.

NRC hopes everyone who attends any neighborhood association meeting, regardless of whether they are a member, a resident of the neighborhood, or a guest, understands the distinction between a typical public hearing and an association meeting and gives appropriate respect to the association’s, the presenter’s, and the presiding officers’ hospitality.