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'Huge Victory' For Public's Right To Speak Before City Council

By Heather Cherone | March 17, 2017 6:24pm | Updated on March 20, 2017 8:22am
 Uptown activist Andy Thayer brought the suit that prompted the rule change.
Uptown activist Andy Thayer brought the suit that prompted the rule change.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — The City Council will allow members of the public to weigh in on matters at meetings of all 50 aldermen and the mayor — not only just at council committee meetings, officials said Friday.

The new policy was announced three months after Cook County Judge Diane Joan Larsen ruled that Andy Thayer, of Uptown Tent City Organizers, and activist Rick Garcia were correct in claiming that the city violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act on May 22 and June 22 by not allowing them — and other members of the public — to speak before a final vote was taken.

The new rules allowing "residents, community leaders, stakeholders and others to speak during City Council meetings" will go into effect this summer, city officials said.

City officials appealed Larsen's ruling, which they said was "contrary to the language and the intent of the Open Meetings Act."

Members of the public are currently allowed to comment on pending laws and resolutions and the City Council's committee meetings. Taking additional comments at the full City Council meeting would be "duplicative and unnecessary," officials said in December.

However, city officials Friday reversed course and dropped their appeal and will begin drafting a rule to give the public another opportunity to speak during the legislative process,” said Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the city's Law Department.

Thayer said the city's decision to throw in the towel was a "huge victory for the public's right to know."

"It shouldn't have taken a lawsuit to get to this point," Thayer said, adding that the new rules are "months overdue."

The suit was prompted by the council's decision in June to approve a $15.8 million Tax Increment Finance funding deal for developer Montrose Clarendon Partners LLC.

The project includes a 26-story mixed-use building with 381 residential units, a grocery store and 278 parking spaces.

Larsen has not ruled on whether city officials had improperly blocked Thayer and other opponents of the deal from entering the Council Chamber by filling its seats with City Hall interns.

In addition, Larsen has not ruled on whether the actions taken by the City Council at the disputed meetings should be voided, as Thayer and Garcia have asked.

Thayer said he would continue to ask Larsen to reverse those actions by the City Council.

"We still have our sights set on that," Thayer said, adding that the council's decision was "deeply undemocratic."