Evanston Rules Committee moves to change public comment rules

Ald.+Eleanor+Revelle+at+Monday%E2%80%99s+Rules+Committee+meeting.+Revelle+emphasized+making+sure+residents+have+enough+time+to+discuss+matters+important+to+them.
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Evanston Rules Committee moves to change public comment rules

Ald. Eleanor Revelle at Monday’s Rules Committee meeting. Revelle emphasized making sure residents have enough time to discuss matters important to them.

Ald. Eleanor Revelle at Monday’s Rules Committee meeting. Revelle emphasized making sure residents have enough time to discuss matters important to them.

Evan Robinson-Johnson/Daily Senior Staffer

Ald. Eleanor Revelle at Monday’s Rules Committee meeting. Revelle emphasized making sure residents have enough time to discuss matters important to them.

Evan Robinson-Johnson/Daily Senior Staffer

Evan Robinson-Johnson/Daily Senior Staffer

Ald. Eleanor Revelle at Monday’s Rules Committee meeting. Revelle emphasized making sure residents have enough time to discuss matters important to them.

Emma Edmund, Assistant City Editor

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In a Rules Committee meeting Monday, aldermen recommended an amendment to specify the time allotted for public comments during standing committees.

The move comes after the Illinois assistant Attorney General sent a letter last month to Evanston Assistant Attorney Alexandra Ruggie. The letter ruled that the city broke an Illinois Open Meetings Act rules when it restricted public comment during a meeting in December, though it recommended no corrective action.

A March 27 memo from City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz recommended that the committee change the language of public comment rules for standing committees. Per the committee’s final recommendation, all standing committees other than the Planning and Development Committee would have a 20-minute public comment period, with up to two minutes allotted to each speaker.

Committee business would resume 20 minutes after the beginning of public comment. For the Planning and Development Committee, 45 minutes would be allotted for public comment, with committee business beginning after the public comment period.

Under current public comment rules, committees default to City Council’s public comment rules, which allow 45 minutes of public comment in each committee.

“In the absence of something to the contrary, the interpretation would be that the Council rules would apply,” said Ald. Donald Wilson (4th). “That’s an awfully long time in one night for citizen comments.”

City Council public comment rules would not be affected. Residents would still be allowed up to three minutes of speaking time at City Council meetings, not to exceed 45 minutes total.

Aldermen floated other ideas to streamline the public comment process while also allocating enough time for the public to voice their opinions on city issues. Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th), for example, suggested giving organized residents an opportunity for special presentations on major issues.

“When I think about how that discussion happens at P&D, we give the developer or the applicant time to make a special presentation that’s not part of public comment,” Revelle said. “I think the residents deserve an opportunity also to have more time to lay out their arguments.”

Wilson brought up the city of Rockford, Ill., which allows a maximum of five speakers at three minutes apiece. Rockford has over 147,000 residents, while Evanston has just under 75,000.

“We have to ensure that there’s enough time to get the work done and have the conversations while people are here to hear what we’re talking about,” Wilson said.

This recommendation follows the broader discussion the aldermen had about shortening the time spent in meetings. The aldermen emphasized the need to balance conversation with the ability of aldermen to make effective decisions, decisions Bobkiewicz said become more difficult to make when meetings run past 11 p.m.

The committee debated adding start and stop times to standing committees, and settled on recommending that the Planning and Developing Committee begin at 6:45 p.m., with City Council commencing at its finish. Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) explained why the aldermen should refrain from adding stop times to committees.

“Some things just need more discussion,” Wynne said. “As we continue to tighten up the agendas, we won’t be here past midnight. We’re a community that really has a lot of discussion.”

City Council still needs to vote on all recommendations set forth in Monday’s meeting.

Email: emmaedmund2022@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @emmaeedmund


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