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City Council Installs Shot Clock For Public Comment Section Of Meetings

By Heather Cherone | June 21, 2017 11:27am | Updated on June 21, 2017 12:29pm
 The latest additions to the City Council Chambers are a pair of countdown clocks for public speakers.
The latest additions to the City Council Chambers are a pair of countdown clocks for public speakers.
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

CITY HALL — A plan to give 10 Chicagoans three minutes each to have their say at the start of City Council meetings was blasted Wednesday as "totally inadequate" by the Uptown man who sued the city to force the change.

A judge ruled in December that city officials must allow members of the public to weigh in at Council meetings. Initially, city officials vowed to appeal the decision by Judge Diane Joan Larsen, saying it was "contrary to the language and the intent of the Open Meetings Act."

However, city officials dropped their appeal in March and promised to put new rules in place by this summer.

The Council's Rules Committee took no action Wednesday on the proposal authored by allies of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but will take up the matter again June 28, on the same day the full Council could consider and approve the measure.

Andy Thayer, of Uptown Tent City Organizers, who sued the city for violating the Open Meetings Act, said the proposal was "totally inadequate" and could invite another lawsuit.

Thayer also said that the Council spent 2½ hours at each of the last two full Council meetings — which take place once a month — on honorary resolutions.

Chief Assistant Corporation Counsel Jeff Levine said giving the public any more time to weigh in would be "redundant" since the public also is allowed to speak at meetings of the Council's committees.

Members of the public would be allowed to sign up to speak on a first come, first served basis before 9:15 a.m.  The Council meetings start at 10 a.m.

The three-minute limit will be tracked by the newest addition to the Council chambers — two huge digital clocks that resemble a countdown clock in a gymnasium.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said the clock was "tacky."

The clock will be turned off once the public comment period ends, officials said.

Michael Graham, an attorney for watchdog group Project Six, headed by former Council Inspector General Faisal Khan, objected to the 30-minute limit for 10 speakers as well, calling it "grossly inadequate."

Thayer and activist Rick Garcia filed a lawsuit that claimed that the city violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act on May 22 and June 22 of last year by not allowing them — and other members of the public — to speak before the Council voted to approve a $15.8 million tax increment financing deal for developer Montrose Clarendon Partners.

The project includes a 26-story mixed-use building with 381 residential units, a grocery store and 278 parking spaces in the 4400 block of North Clarendon Avenue.

Larsen has not ruled on another claim in the suit — that city officials improperly blocked Thayer and other opponents of the deal from entering the Council chambers by filling its seats with City Hall interns.

Neither has Larsen ruled on whether the actions taken by the Council at the disputed meetings should be voided, as Thayer and Garcia have asked.