Sam Allard / Scene
Ward 15 Councilwoman Jenny Spencer speaks in favor of adding a public comment period at Cleveland City Council meetings, (4/12/21).
When members of the citywide grassroots coalition Clevelanders for Public Comment were sent the proposed city council rule change that will theoretically designate time for public comments at council meetings, and on which council is scheduled to vote next week, they couldn't believe their eyes.
Jessica Trivisonno, an attorney and Ward 3 resident, had crafted a public comment ordinance based on research into the procedures in peer cities back in February. And though a majority of council members supported the ordinance, City Council President and mayoral candidate Kevin Kelley made it clear that he preferred a rule change, as opposed to binding legislation. Trivisonno, then, restructured the legislation into rule form.
But Trivisonno's work has been ignored. Instead, what will appear before council on Aug. 18th is a 60-word amendment that fails to address a number of key provisions that Clevelanders for Public Comment had emphasized: How does one sign up to make a comment, for example? How long will the public comment period last? What topics are people allowed to comment on? Who is considered a “citizen” (as the amendment classifies commenters), and how often are they allowed to speak in front of council?
“This proposed rule change is an obvious ploy by Councilman Kevin Kelley to claim a win on his campaign trail,” said Trivisonno, in a statement released by Clevelanders for Public Comment. “Adopting the public comment rule proposed by Kevin Kelley would allow Council Leadership to claim progress while preserving their ability to remain gatekeepers for civic engagement and blockade public input. That’s not a win for Clevelanders at all.”
The amendment is below:
The extremely minor changes establish a regular slot for comments at meetings and hold that any "citizen" may offer comment "in accordance with rules and procedures promulgated [declared] by the Clerk of Council." To comment at committee meetings, those wishing to provide comment must first seek approval from the committee chair. "Approval or denial of such request is at the discretion of the committee chair."
As Clevelanders for Public Comment has noted, that's already the case.
“Public comment is too important to assign to the unelected Clerk of Council,” said Michelle B. Jackson, a Ward 4 resident and member of Clevelanders for Public Comment, in a statement. “Councilmembers need to muster enough bravery to make simple decisions about public comment and be held accountable should the policy fall short of what Clevelanders demand.”
Given the insufficiency of this proposed change, Clevelanders for Public Comment says that it will continue to advocate for its own version.
The above is a draft of the proposed rule change. The final version is below, with a few minor copy-edits: It has changed "citizen" to "person," "promulgated" to "established," and "approval or denial" to "approval."
Provided by Cleveland City Council
Sign up for Scene's weekly newsletters to get the latest on Cleveland news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.