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Speaking up during public comment time at Evanston City Council meetings could become more challenging for citizens if aldermen adopt a proposal floated at a meeting this week.

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, asked at Wednesday night’s Rules Committee meeting that the aldermen schedule a discussion for their Aug. 1 Rules Committee meeting of how officials might regularly respond to “non-factual” comments made by citizens.

Under current council rules, aldermen are expected to listen, but not respond, to what residents say during their alloted three minutes or less of speaking time during the citizen comment period.

But on several occasions recently — notably when failed 7th Ward aldermanic candidate Kevin O’Connor claimed that the city is bankrupt and that officials had worked out a secret deal to sell the golf course and Chandler-Newberger Center to Northwestern University — aldermen and city staff did respond, denying O’Connor’s claims.

“When we’re silent,” Burrus said, “that’s acquiescence that makes people in the audience think we agree with what’s being said.”

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, suggested that rather than having aldermen respond, that the city manager could be asked to correct statements that are not factual.

Left unmentioned, at least this week, is what adding responses might do to the total time spent on the public comment period, now limited to 45 minutes per meeting, or whether citizens would have the opportunity to respond to the attacks on their veracity.

Top: Kevin O’Connor, speaking during the citizen comment period at a recent City Council meeting.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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17 Comments

  1. What about when Aldermen make non-factual comments?

    It seems only fair that citizens should be able to respond when aldermen make non-factual comments, which occurs all the time.

    1. Case in point: Ald. makes non-factual statement re. parking

      This is spot on. I recognize that the aldermen are part timers and there is a lot of stuff to know, but if you look at the minutes from the last Administration and Public Works Committee, an alderman makes the non-factual claim that there are not enough parking spaces downtown. If you actually read the city's Downtown or transportation planning documents you will know that it is the most parking-surplused business district in town. The parking garages are never at capacity. The problem with ALdermen and facts is that their lack of knowledge will actually have an impact on the spending of tax dollars.

  2. Who Determines “factual?”

    Sometimes "factual" is a matter of perspective.  If you start "debating" or verbally disagreeing with a constituent comments, you are all setting yourselves up for a free-for-all.  It will eventually morph into a "he said, she said, they said" and an endless back and forth.

    If Evanston or wherever is broke, then that simply means you all spent more money than you had.  So you need to get serious about how you bring money in to the town.  

    Good luck with that!

  3. Appropriate preface

    I suggest that the City Manager be called to  introduce any period of public comment with the statement,"The aldermen don't believe or disbelieve anything you are about to say; their silence is not consent to the insanity you are about to articulate."

  4. Who are council members kidding?

    Council members have long had the ability  to add their two cent to citizen's comments – they have made statements during public comment, they also can  comment during call of the wards.

    The fact of the matter is the council, Mayor and Wally are starting to lose the trust of a larger and larger number of citizens.

    The council members, Mayor and Wally want to control the message, they no longer have that ability. We are not a one news source town any more, nor will the citizen believe the city's web site.

    Recently after I spoke at citizens comment one council member clearly tried to misstate what I said to change the message. She was not interested in really discussing of what I said, but wanted to distort it for her own political gain. At the next meeting I restated what I said and corrected her.

    I have no issue with them trying to correct what I say, but this may put a damper on citizens who feel less comfortable in stating their views in public. Any time any one of them wants to debate me, on their management of the city, let them come on public tv.

    As far as the fact the city is bankrupt, no its not officially bankrupt, but given Wally's action it is clear he is trying to prevent a collapse. A few simple facts point to the serious problem – highest debt to income ratio of all cities in Cook County, stopped spending on capital in 2009, draining down the reverse two years ago to balance the budget. Major cuts to programs.

    As far as the secret meetings — it is clear meetings occurred, who was there and what was discussed can be debated.

    Let them comment all they want, given they make so many mistakes will we be allowed to comment on the individual council members and staff long list of screw ups and misstatements?

    1. Conjecture As Debatable Fact

      As far as the secret meetings — it is clear meetings occurred, who was there and what was discussed can be debated.As far as the secret meetings — it is clear meetings occurred, who was there and what was discussed can be debated.

      What are you debating? If you don't know what was discussed you are guessing – or speculating, reckoning, hypothesizing, telling tales, spinning yarns, pulling rabbits from hats, however you wish to dress it up – and only guessing. Hence the whole "secret" descriptor of the meeting.

      Sometimes our citizens present misinformation as fact. Failure to correct that misinformation – or in this case, rank speculation – does all citizens a disservice.

      What debate would you have with the council or staff, anyway? Resolved: Props aid in grandstanding at council meetings?

      1. Conjecture, facts, and groundless accusations

        Ironically Anonymous wrote:

         

        "Sometimes our citizens present misinformation as fact. Failure to correct that misinformation – or in this case, rank speculation – does all citizens a disservice."

         

        A better idea is to get rid of citizen comment entirely.  There is almost never anything useful during that period, and it is just a waste of time.

        As for the City Manager correcting 'non-factual' statements or outright falsehoods, Ironically Anonymous's comments show how complicated that would be.

         It is one thing to correct a false statement.  If someone says that the Civic Center is in the 9th ward, when it is clearly nowhere near the 9th ward, then the City Manager or anyone else could easily correct that.   However, the citizen comments of Mr Ponzi and others   are often of a different sort – conspiracies, groundless accusations, etc.   If Ponzi discusses a shadowy conspiracy of alderman to raise water rates,  how can anyone disprove that?   How can anyone argue with or enquire about  these statements?  Why should the City Manager get involved in this 'debate'?   And wouldn't that just give an undeserved aura of legitimacy to the conspiracy theorists?

        It is better to abolish citizen comment.  Ponzi can post his conspiracies on Evanston Now or one of the other less prestigious Evanston news sites.  

         

        1. Eliminate Citizen Comment?

          You state

          -However, the citizen comments of Mr Ponzi and others   are often of a different sort – conspiracies, groundless accusations, etc.   If Ponzi discusses a shadowy conspiracy of alderman to raise water rates,  how can anyone disprove that?

          You clearly are not paying attention to what is going on at the council meetings.

          There is no shadowy conspiracy theory to raise the water rates and sewer rates – Mr  Anonymous  staff has presented this – last time the  rate went up about 10% – they proposed an additional 30% over the next several years of course they were somewhat vague as to what this cost was covering – debt service salaries etc.

          Of course our alderman said nothing – about the plan which leads me to believe that Wally thinks he has there approval to raise the rates not a conspiracy just plain lack of their leadership. .They appear to  be approving new Capital for projects at the plant with a rather vague Capital plan.

          Mr Anonymous when was the last time you spoke at council? Don't confuse conspiracy with facts! I never spoke about a conspiracy of the alderman to raise the water rates, get your own facts straight,

          Those in power and their friends who have profited from them being in power  can not  control the message, anymore, too many citizens are starting to watch them. There is no single source of news in this town any longer,

          1. Yes, eliminate…or modify…citizens’ comment

            Ponzi says:

            "I never spoke about a conspiracy of the alderman to raise the water rates, get your own facts straight,"

            I do apologize, Mr. Ponzi…it was not you , dear Ponzi, who made such accusations.  It was someone else…a Mr. Junad Rizki of the Seventh Ward who wrote an article titled "Another Illegal Meeting by City Council members against the public interest!" , in which he accused the council members of meeting in secret and enquired  "Now we need to catch up for their possible cover up?".

            As for citizens' comment:  this period should not be an opportunity for residents to rant and speechify and make crazy unsubstantiated accusations.  People can post on Evanston now or hand out pamphlets on Sherman Ave. if they want to get their opinions out.  The only useful purpose of an open-mic at Council meetings would be a chance to hold council members or the City Manager accountable – sort of like Question Time in the British Parliament (and other parliaments based on the Westminster system) .  Only instead of opposition members of parliament, the Mayor or Council or City Manager would have to answer the enquiries of ordinary citizens.  Strict rules of decorum and civility would of course be maintained, so ranting accusations would not be allowed (sorry, Ponzi) , but otherwise citizens would be permitted to enquire about all affairs of City government, and expect a response from government officials.  

             

             

          2. Stick to the facts -please

            Mr Who

            If you read what I wrote on Central Street Neighbors rather than using it as lead off to your position you would understand it Is quite factual.

            They did hold a closed door meeting.  as I stated ( since it would appear 3 or more council members attend,

            On Thursday Feb.12th the City Council members went on a tour of the Evanston Water Plant the notice was posted on the City web site,
            On Wednesday Feb 11th I called the water plant and asked where I could park when I would come on the tour, given this was a meeting all council members were attending I viewed it open to the public under the open meetings act.
            I was told to go to the east gate and inform them I was there for the tour.  About two hours later they called me and told me I could not attend the tour since it was not a meeting of the city council but a tour, and the public was not allowed to attend due to national security issues. ( there are no federal homeland security rules about water plants )
            Also I found out about the time I was called, a email was sent out advising staff not to attend the meeting since it was a tour of the council members and not "public" meeting.

            I did not suggest there was a conspiracy.  

            'By the way why aren't you using you Mr Who name any more?  I think I need to create a cartoon character call Dr Who knows nothing. who wants to discredit citizens at city council meetings. 
             

      2. Ironically Anonymous you know more than you are saying!

        Ironically Anonymous you state "If you don't know what was discussed you are guessing " interesting you admitted meetings have occurred.  

        So you know meetings have occur or are you speculating they occurred.  Given you have the knowledge the meetings occured one might wonder if you know what was discussed.  

        Another web source stated Mr Bobkewicz when questioned about  discussing the sale of Chandler to the Hospital evaded the question.   Also the web source stated there were recently revealed discussions with NU about the golf course. This was from the meeting of the 7th ward at the ecology center.

        Lets be clear I have not spoken at the council about this issue, you can go check the record or review the tapes.  I have little interest in the nonsense of the city staff , and the mostly failed deals they create other than when the waste the tax payers money!

        You go on to say

        'Sometimes our citizens present misinformation as fact. Failure to correct that misinformation – or in this case, rank speculation – does all citizens a disservice.'   your use of the term "our citizens" makes me wonder who you are – I will not speculate. 

        Mr Bobkewicz and the Mayor along with the legal staff can clear the air on this issue, give us a list of the meetings, who attended and what was discussed.  Is that so hard? Or were they secret?

         

  5. The Flipside

    === Sometimes our citizens present misinformation as fact. Failure to correct that misinformation – or in this case, rank speculation – does all citizens a disservice ===

    True.  And sometimes our elected officials present misinformation as fact. Failure to correct that misinformation – or in this case, rank speculation – does all citizens a disservice.

  6. Robert’s Rules

    I would be very disappointed in the City and our community if we started having citizen-aldermanic public discourse instead of citizen comment.

    Citizen comment is an event at public meetings where any individual, no matter their issue, can speak their mind. Even if the aldermen or city staff believe that what is spoken isn't correct, they shouldn't be given the ability to dispute citizens in an immediate fashion without doing their homework on the issue and being exactly sure that their response is measured, polite, appropriate, and just.

    Aldermen are symbols of our community. They are our most local elected representatives, which gives them a certain amount of power, even if it is mostly social. Our manager/council form of government also gives power directly to people who aren't directly elected by the community. It isn't power like a king or our President or even the mayor or alderman of a neighboring city, but it is power nonetheless, and it takes a certain amount of courage to stand up to the people in power and tell them what you think and how you feel. After sitting through and watching almost every public meeting for three years, I am proud that our city has people who want to ensure that our city runs well and have ideas on what needs to be fixed.  

     If any alderman or staff member wants to address the issues brought to a meeting by a citizen, they should personally connect with that member of our community to address their issues, or they should go do their due diligence on the issue and, in the next available public forum, address the topic. They should absolutely not be given the ability to yell right back at an obviously angry citizen just because they are either embarrassed, upset, indignant, or hurt. 

    A city oriented around education from birth onwards shouldn't have a policy that allows public meetings to degenerate into shouting matches. I cringe now when aldermen or staff members interrupt impassioned (sometimes overly so) citizens who may misunderstand or who haven't been properly educated on the topics they care about, because it feels like the relationship between the City and the people ends with both sides expressing frustration but neither side addressing the problems at hand.

    We already have the structure for a civil, organized process which allows both sides to explain their thoughts and ideas on how to make the city better. If the process is being abused by one side or the other, lets not throw out the process. Clearly the problem is the fact that it feels like there are two sides, and instead of our city government working to further the divide between themselves and their critics they should be working to directly address the issues presented to them in a civil manner and repeatedly asking their critics to be constructive and polite.

    Our elected officials, our city staff, and we the people all need more patience and humility when it comes to discussing these issues in public. We need to realize, as many citizens who do not show up to the meetings? realize, that the gravity of your concern is not translated through the volume of your voice but through the dedication and patience through your solution. But the problem isn't the process.  

    1. Christian said it perfectly

      Bill – any possibility of a thumbs up/thumbs down vote thing on comments as is done at other places online? In this case, I want to support what Christian said about citizen comments at council meetings. If there were a simple like/dislike button with each comment it wouldn't be necessary to post like I am doing now just to say I agree.

  7. Can the Council Go Nuttier?

    I thought last month’s alderperson comedy was as ridiculous as the Council could go.  Coleen Burrus’ proposed Truth Squad is a new low.   I have routinely heard aldermen spew half-truths and falsehoods.  This Council term started on a council lie.  The mayor promised to renegotiate the water contract with Skokie.  Once elected, she admitted she has done nothing about the water contract with Skokie.  I would like to suggest Evanston Now keep a scorecard of citizen truths versus council truths. Evanston residents would find out how often aldermen lie.

  8. Thanks for the great web site

    Dear Ponzi- 

         Just wanted to say that unlike Mr. Who, I think that this news source is the best in town.  Unlike the Pioneer Press folks or Evanston Review, you don't spin the story.    You give facts, and they are not always pretty. Mr. Who must just be reading the other newspapers if he passionately believes that city council is always right.  Sort of like a liberal who only reads the NY Times, it's easier to just close your eyes to the other side of the story and call people who disagree stupid.

       Keep up the good work! 

     

     Oh and…  How about a Ponzi Cartoon-  Wally=Big Brother, city council = inner circle.  Ministry of Truth police  silencing the masses.  Empty bag of candy.

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