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In a somewhat ironic development, Evanston aldermen ran out of time at a Rules Committee meeting Monday night to discuss a proposal to set a time limit for City Council meetings.

But they did reach agreement on a procedure for handling attempts by members of the public to bulk up the time they have to talk during public comment at Council meetings.

Mayor Steve Hagerty has generally declined to let one person cede his or her time to another during recent meetings — a decision that several frequent speakers at public comment criticized during the Rules Committee’s public comment session.

By Council rules, the total time devoted to public comment at a City Council meeting is limited to 45 minutes. Some recent meetings have seen more than 45 speakers sign up, leaving each with a minute or less to make their points.

In response to that, some people with similar views have chosen to sign up to speak with the intent to cede, or give away, their time to the one in the group considered to be the most loquacious or best-prepared speaker.

The citizen speakers have argued that move should give their designated spokesperson the combined total speaking time of all those who cede their time.

After an extended discussion among aldermen that revealed their divided views on the issue, City Clerk Devon Reid pointed out that the current rule says no speaker can speak for more than three minutes — and makes no exception for speakers who’ve been offered time from others.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, who was chairing the meeting said that was a good point — and pointed the way to a solution.

Alderman Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, added that people should have to be present at the Council meeting to sign up to speak, or to cede their time.

So, assuming 45 speakers, two people could cede time to let a third speak for a full three minutes, but having more speakers cede their time would not give the chosen spokesperson any additional time at the mike.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said he’d work with Reid to revise the speaker signup form so that people could indicate on the form who they wanted to cede their time to.

Now speakers generally wait until they’re called upon to announce they want to cede their time — which tends to add to delays in completing the public comment session, which now often stretches considerably longer than its supposed 45 minute maximum length.

The proposal from city staff that aldermen set 11 p.m. as the end time for City Council meetings was held over for the committee’s Oct. 1. meeting, along with several other agenda items, after the Rules Committee meeting, which had been scheduled to end by 7:30 p.m. to make way for the Human Services Committee session, didn’t actually wrap up until 8:06 p.m.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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