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Critics Slam Proposed Time Limit For Public Comment At City Council Meetings

Chicago aldermen are weighing new rules that would, for the first time, allow public comment at City Council meetings, but activists who sued for that right said the proposed time limits are totally unacceptable.

The city has installed a big, bright, new digital clock on the wall of the council chamber, to count down the three minutes each speaker has when meetings are opened to public comment, once the new rules are approved.

Last year, a Cook County judge ruled the City Council was in violation of the Open Meetings Act by not allowing public comment at full City Council meetings.

Andy Thayer, one of several activists who filed the lawsuit against the council, said limiting the total comment period to 30 minutes is totally unacceptable.

"The city attorneys did not reach out to us in terms of suggested changes, and in so doing is frankly wasting more of the taxpayers' money," he said.

The Rules Committee did not vote on the proposed rules, because it lacked a quorum at Wednesday's meeting, but Chief Assistant Corporation Counsel Jeff Levine told aldermen the new rules would mostly mirror those used at committee hearings.

"Adds a 30 minute overall time limit for public comment at City Council, with three minutes per speaker," he said.

If every speaker used his or her full 3 minutes, 10 people would be allowed to speak at each City Council meeting.

George Blakemore, a familiar face at most government meetings in Chicago and Cook County who already comments at every City Council committee meeting he can attend, asked why aldermen have resisted public comment at full council meetings for so long.

"Do you hate the public? That's a hate crime, denying the public to come up here and speak on any topic that they want to," he said. "What motivates you people here, you so-called public servants, to limit to 10 [speakers], when you have 2.7 million people?"

Thayer and the other plaintiffs who sued for a public comment period threatened more court action if the proposed time limits are adopted.

Rules Committee Chair Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) said the rules are more than fair, and will be approved. The committee plans to vote on the measure before the next full council meeting next week.

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