Evanston aldermen Monday are scheduled to discuss new restrictions on conduct during City Council meetings amid claims that protest signs are blocking spectators’ view at meetings.
In a memo to aldermen for the Rules Committee meeting, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz says that over the past several months members of the public have attached banners and posters to the walls and windows of the council chamber and have waved and held up posters during meetings.
“The signs are disruptive, block the views of other meeting attendees and prevent the orderly conduct of the meetings,” Bobkiewicz says in his memo.
Bobkiewicz points to decorum rules adopted by the City Council in Boulder, Colorado, as a possible model. Those rules provide, at XVI-b-9, that “No sign shall be displayed in council chambers in a manner that blocks the view of another person.”
This image, from a Boulder City Council meeting in May, indicates that the rules there haven’t eliminated signs from meetings — but appear to have trimmed their size, compared to ones being displayed in Evanston.
The Boulder rules also specify, at XVI-b-5, that “To maintain the fire code occupancy limits and allow for safe exit, unless addressing the council or entering or leaving the council chambers or meeting room, all persons in the audience shall remain seated in the seats provided. No person shall stand or sit in the aisles, nor shall the doorways be blocked.”
Although Evanston mayors frequently make reference to the fire code in asking residents to clear the aisles during meetings, neither that rule nor a restriction on signs is currently included in Evanston’s City Council Rules.
Boulder, a city of 97,000 people 25 miles northwest of Denver, is home to the main campus of the University of Colorado and has a tradition of lively citizen involvement in local government.
That includes an incident nine years ago in which a former City Council candidate and frequent critic of city government stripped to his boxer shorts while addressing the council in protest of an anti-nudity law the council was considering.
That incident prompted the council to draft the decorum rules. An early draft included a ban on wearing masks, which led another protest by the same guy, which along with objections from others, led the council to strip the mask ban from the rules it ultimately adopted.
Boulder’s city manager, Jane Brautigam, was in Evanston recently for a meeting of the International City County Managers Association, and Bobkiewicz interviewed her about her town’s experience with the decorum issues.
Monday’s Rules Committee meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. in the City council Chambers.