Cleveland City Council continues to offer lukewarm support for the idea of public comment, but is failing to follow through with concrete policy.
Council’s latest attempt to dilute efforts for public comment comes in the form of a proposed rule change. The change, copied below, allows council members to shirk their responsibility for creating a fair, transparent public comment process by delegating public-comment policy making to the unelected Clerk of Council.
“Unfortunately, this is further evidence of the haphazard manner in which Council has operated for the past seven years,” said David Brock, a Ward 16 resident and member of Clevelanders for Public Comment. “Citizen engagement in Cleveland has reached a perilous low as witnessed in last year’s voter turnout. Public comment is a golden opportunity to strengthen the bonds of democracy in our city.”
The proposed rule provides that “citizens” may be heard at Council meetings and sets “Public [Citizen] Comment” fifth in Council’s regular order of business. The new proposed rule also says public comment can occur at committee meetings at the discretion of the chair, which is already the case.
The new rule (shown below) is scheduled to be voted on at the upcoming August 18 council meeting.
The proposed rule says public comment will occur “in accordance with rules and procedures promulgated [declared] by the Clerk of Council”. The proposed rule does not address how a person signs up to make a comment, how long the public comment period will last, the topics people can comment on, how long a person may comment, who constitutes a “citizen” allowed to make a comment, or how many times a person may comment in a given period of time.
“Public comment is too important to assign to the unelected Clerk of Council,” said Michelle B. Jackson. “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.”
Clevelanders for Public Comment provided Council a vetted, thoughtful proposal for public comment in February and a majority of Council members support that proposal. (link here)
When Council President Kelley insisted the policy be adopted as a rule, Clevelanders for Public Comment provided the policy in rule form. Council should have reviewed, revised, and passed a comprehensive public comment policy months ago.
But Council President Kelley opted to ignore that proposal and is instead proposing a 60-word amendment that does nothing to establish a transparent, predictable public comment process.
“This proposed public comment rule change is an obvious ploy by Councilman Kevin Kelley to claim a win on his campaign trail,” said Jessica Trivisonno, a Ward 3 resident and the attorney who drafted the Clevelanders for Public Comment proposal. “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.”
Clevelanders for Public Comment will continue advocating for the proposal that has been vetted, thoroughly researched, and has the support of hundreds of residents and organizations throughout the City of Cleveland.