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Evanston aldermen tonight are scheduled to discuss a new ordinanace that would tighten rules for citizen comment during council meetings.

One major change would give the mayor the option to make speakers addressing items not on the council’s agenda wait until after the council has competed its scheduled business for the evening to offer their remarks.

That provision appears to be directed in part at two residents who have for several months now spoken at each council meeting about the preservation of trees on the former Kendall College property, although the issue was no longer on the council’s agenda.

The public comment period now is governed by City Council rules adopted by resolution.

The proposed new ordinance, drafted by Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar, preserves the current limit of 45 minutes for the entire public comment period, the limit of 3 minutes maximum time per speaker and the mayor’s authority to further limit speakers’ time when there are more than 15 speakers to keep the total comment period to 45 minutes.

Perhaps anticipating a legal challenge, the ordinance provides numerous citations to case law supporting the council’s authority to impose such restrictions.

The ordinance also allows the mayor or committee chair to bar “repetitious, irrelevant, profane, slanderous, immaterial or inappropriate comments or testimony.”

And it authorizes “reasonable limitations” on “speakers who impugn the motives of Council members, or who disrupt, disturb, and/or otherwise impede the orderly conduct of a meeting.”

Adds that “Speakers shall not engage in debate with or threaten or personally attack Council, staff, other speakers, members of the audience, or any other person.

It also requires that audience members “not applaud, cheer, or boo” speakers, staff, or council members.

It also encourages residents to submit written comments in addition to or as a substitute for speaking during citizen comment.

And it says that council members shall not respond to speakers comments “except to request information, refer a matter to the appropriate public body, request that the City Manager respond, and/or express a point of personal privilege when his/her integrity character, and/or motives are assailed, questioned, or otherwise impugned by the speaker.”

The Rules Committee meeting at which the proposal is to be discussed is scheduled for 6 p.m. in the Aldermanic Library at the Civic Center.

Related document

The proposed citizen comment ordinance

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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8 Comments

  1. Citizen comment rules

    I applaud the upcoming discussion about Citizen comment rules. I have had to sit through too many council meetings where the same comments are made over and over, meeting after meeting.

    We live in a democracy where people have the right to speak, however those same people have the responsibility to accept the decision of the democratically elected city council. If they do not like the results of council actions, In our system of government, their recourse is to vote.

    I hope the Rules Committee of the City Council will support the new ordinance, so that meetings can proceed more efficiently.

    1. Me too

      I agree…it's always the same people at every meeting, the politicians manqués from the seventh ward spouting conspiracy theories ,  the people complaining about elms or traffic or Northwestern, and other people with nothing better to do.  Put them at the end of the meeting, so everyone can go home without listening to them.

      It was also really shameful to see the rowdy, noisy, and threatening behavior by the Tower Haters back when council was considering the 708 Church proposal…the way they tried to bully Ald. Moran was truly disgraceful.  We cannot have democracy if a gang of Tower-hating thugs is allowed to intimidate elected officials at Council meetins.  

      1. I Think You Hit On A Good Idea

        I think you hit on perhaps a good idea the Council can employ:

        There should be a rotation system at each meeting, that mandates that if you spoke at the prior meeting, you automatically take your place at the bottom of the list for the next meeting citizen comment time, allowing for newcomers to get the first slots…. and then repeat the process.  Perhaps put it on a 2-3 meeting rotation, etc.

    2. Country

      What country do you live in … this is NOT a democracy no matter how many times it's called that … majority does NOT rule … we live in a republic … check out our pledge to the flag … 'and to the republic for which it stands.'  The more people forget that, the less involved they become.

  2. They’re trying to do this all

    They're trying to do this all over the USA to shut up the citizenry.  I'm pretty sure this is a 1st Amendment issue.

    If you're tired of hearing the same-old, same-old, perhaps that means that the same-old hasn't been resolved.

  3. Not me too

    Are there no opposing or differing views allowed? The 708 Tower made no economic sense and that it has not happened is evidence of that.

    Intimidate? Ha? What about D65 administrative pay raises?

    1. Organized dialogue

      The 708 tower didn't happen because of the overall economy tanking, really nothing much has been built anywhere because banks have not been lending money to anything. 708 does make economic sense and I personally believe the proposal will come back one day and a project will get built there. 

      And then the issue of this stream comes into play.  Nobody wants to sit through an endless stream of uninformed and unfounded accusations, assessments and predictions by the same group of people over and over and over, and over and over.

      The 708 tower people are a prime example of why this is needed.  Not to squelch opinions and dialogue but make those opinions and dialogue civil, factual and pertinent without subjecting the rest of the community to an endless stream of over and over.

      When a group of people advocate for a cause from any direction, pro or anti tower for example, that's great.  But may I suggest they should utilize this method.  Get signatures on a petition to show level of support, then select 3-4 representatives who will co-ordinate their 3 minute presentations to cover all their talking points and make their case in an organized and efficient manner. 

      It forces people to make a cohesive argument, question their own statements before they are made, and provides an opposing viewpoint that's stronger, thorough and succinct.  Nobody wants to sit through 30 people yammering the same thing endlessly, it actually hurts their cause because reasonable people resent the waste of time they impose on everybody else.

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