Evanston aldermen Tuesday evening voted to end the practice of letting people who sign up to speak at public comment during City Council meetings cede their time to another speaker.

During the Rules Committee meeting, Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said he’d initially seen no problem with the practice, but has come to believe that even a moderately organized group of 10 to 15 people could use it to eliminate the opportunity for other people to have time to speak.

“That one person who gets time ceded to them can monopolize a significant portion of speaking time,” Wilson said.

Melissa Wynne.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said the practice of ceding time used to be very unusual, “but it’s become very much more a regular event.”

“I think we should have a rule not to cede time and afford everyone the same time to speak as anyone else,” Wynne added.

In addition, the aldermen asked the city manager and corporation counsel to draft new rules for public comment during meetings of the Council’s four standing committees.

Under the Council’s existing rules, public comment is limited to 45 minutes at meetings of the full City Council, but the rules are silent about the time limit for meetings of the Council’s Administration and Public Works, Planning and Development, Human Services and Rules committees.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, suggested that comment periods should be shorter at the committee meetings — which often are scheduled to last only an hour to 90 minutes.

If there’s a long agenda at those meetings, Fiske said, a 45-minute public comment period would leave no time to address most of the items on the agenda.

Wilson suggested allowing 20 minutes for public comment at committee meetings, but giving the committee chair discretion to allow for more than that.

He also noted that, particularly at the Planning and Development Committee, committee chairs frequently have permitted group presentations apart from public comment, most often by neighbors opposed to a development project.

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, said that if a group wants to make an organized presentation, they should contact the committee chair well in advance.

The Rules Committee also voted Tuesday to create a special subcommittee to consider revisions to the city’s code of ethics and related issues. That committee is scheduled to report its recommendations back to the Rules Committee on April 1.

Related story

Council to address ethics code issues (1/22/19)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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