A quick thought on public participation at meetings: Several years ago, when I became Director of AMATS, we re-evaluated our public participation plan. One of the changes that we made was to eliminate a provision that stated that comments had to pertain explicitly to items on the agenda. One of the reasons that we did this is because a legitimate public comment could certainly be "You never talk about (x) on your agenda!" We felt it was important to give people the opportunity to tell us if they thought that we were ignoring topics that were important to them.
Now of course, by making this change, we ran a risk of opening the door to more comments that might be considered "off-topic" or "off the wall" for a regional planning agency, but we have procedures in place (time limits, and discretion on part of the chairperson as to the relevance of subject matter) to govern this. All in all, we felt (and feel) that more participation and more engagement is better.
We also encourage the elected officials that sit on our decision-making body to engage with the public as individuals and to allow that engagement to inform the proceedings at our committee meetings.
And, as a staff, we really do see it as our job to "help people" - both the public, and the elected officials that represent them. The more we can help the two groups to connect and to have substantive dialogue with one another, the better.
I was wondering if municipal or township governments have considered making similar provisions for allowing non-agenda related topics. It would be interesting to compare and contrast public comment procedures at various entites throughout the region.
Our public participation regimen is a work in progress, but I really appreciate to engage with other public officials like yourselves in helping to craft best-practices, to learn by doing, and to transfer knowledge.
Here's a link to our public participation plan if you are interested: