Public Comment Fact Check

Council President Kelley Offers “Alternative Facts” at the City Club on Public Comment

Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley made erroneous and misleading statements about the campaign for public comment in an interview yesterday with Daniel Moulthrop for the City Club of Cleveland.

Kelley’s comments must be addressed because residents working to improve their city government should not be misled about the obstacles ordinary Clevelanders face when trying to engage Council Leadership.

During the interview, President Kelley claimed that he “took time” on public comment to get the policy right. The problem with this assertion is the public comment rule adopted by Council is deficient in a number of ways ranging from sloppily drafted decorum language that likely runs afoul of the 1st Amendment to a failure to address public comment at committee meetings.

The misleading statements by President Kelley include:

  • “I did it” when referring to public comment. This is a total mischaracterization of our experience. “We did it” would be a more accurate description considering the amount of organizing across every corner of Cleveland and the number of op-ed and editorial pieces that were written in support of our proposal along with the active support of a majority of council members. For someone who was the main opponent of public comment to take personal credit with its final passage is “anti-fact” – something he has accused his opponent of in the mayoral contest.
  • “It didn’t take long if you look at the facts” is an egregious mischaracterization of the time the process took. At every step there was deliberate bureaucratic delay concocted by Kelley. For example, why was our research and proposal never acknowledged — this could have saved the council staff resources that were duplicating efforts. Why were our experts never contacted by council leadership or its staff after having done months of research? The answer is obvious: It was part of the slow-walk which might have succeeded if our group was not large and dedicated. Situations like this are why voters lack faith in the ability of their government to accomplish the most menial or miniscule tasks.

From the beginning it has been apparent that the leading opponent of our grassroots initiative has been Kevin Kelley. Kelley’s efforts behind the scenes to subvert public comment, until he recognized the massive support it possessed both amongst Councilmembers and the city’s residents overall, are indicative of a greater failing amongst the political class in our city, and that is to willfully neglect constituent groups seeking to interact with their elected representatives. This can be seen in several other circumstances during Kelley’s leadership of Council including the efforts by CLASH for improved lead safety and the Q deal involving public money. Too often the voices of the residents in our city go unheard. Even a cursory review of the timeline of events and the specific acts by the Council President amply demonstrate his contempt for our movement and our desire to promote greater civic engagement.

Here’s a quick refresher of the timeline below. An exhaustive overview of the coverage of the campaign can be found here: https://cle4publiccomment.com/.

January 29, 2021Open letter to Council President Kelley signed by residents of all 17 wards, calling for reforms to democratize City Council, most important instituting public comment 
February & March
Multiple attempts to follow-up with Council President Kelley including requesting a meeting — no response
April 8Council President Kelley announces he’s running for mayor and is asked at his announcement about public comment during his press conference and provides a response about open records rather than public comment
April 9Council President Kelley responds to January 29th letter with an undated response explaining that public comment will be researched by Council’s “policy cluster” 

Kelley does not acknowledge or respond to the research or proposed ordinance offered by Clevelanders for Public Comment
April 12Seven (7) members of Council (McCormack, B. Jones, Polensek, Santana, Spencer, Kazy and Slife) hold a press conference on the steps of City Hall announcing support for the ordinance proposed by Clevelanders for Public Comment
April 20Two additional members of Council sign on in support of proposed public comment ordinance (J. Jones & Conwell) bringing support of the Clevelanders for Public Comment proposal to a majority on Council
April 21Cleveland.com / The Plain Dealer editorial in support of public comment “Let the people be heard at Cleveland City Council meetings

“The model ordinance from Trivisonno and Clevelanders for Public Comment hits all the high notes.”
May 2Crain’s Cleveland editorial in support of public comment and the work of Clevelanders for Public Comment “Speak out

“The work of Clevelanders for Public Comment has gone beyond just raising awareness of the need for comment. A proposed public comment ordinance drafted by Cleveland resident Jessica Trivisonno has won broad support from activist groups, and, as Cleveland.com reported, it now appears to have the backing of at least nine of council’s 17 members.”
May 10Joint Rules and Operations Committee meeting that included a presentation of council staff research on public comment in other jurisdictions and an outline of the policy proposal recommended by Council President Kelley

The research and proposal of Clevelanders for Public Comment is not even mentioned, nor considered in this meeting
SummerClevelanders for Public Comment spends the summer organizing and educating residents all across the City on public comment and the campaign to democratize Council
August 17Council’s Committee of the Whole finally considered a public comment rule change — unfortunately, the rule change was deficient in a number of ways and totaled only several lines of text

Clevelanders for Public Comment successfully moved for an amendment to the proposed rule
Oct 4Council implemented public comment at full council meetings. The first public comment session was proof positive of the importance of providing for resident voices at Council meetings
Ongoing Clevelanders for Public Comment is continuing to work securing the public comment policy that Clevelanders deserve, including memorializing the policy as an ordinance rather than a rule, and providing for public comment and a clear sign-up process at committee meetings

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