Proposed Ordinance Analysis and Explanation

Summary

This document is a companion to the proposed City of Cleveland Public Comment Ordinance. It includes an explanation of the history and current state of public comment in Cleveland as of early 2021, and provides explanations and parallels to comparable cities and public bodies to explain the reasoning behind the proposed City of Cleveland Public Comment Ordinance.

History of Public Comment at City Council and Committee Meetings

According to City Archivist Chuck Mocsiran, there was a brief window from 1924-1932, during the years that Cleveland was under the City Manager form of government, where a provision in the Charter required public comment at City Council meetings. Section 8 of the City Charter provided that “All meetings of the Council, and all committees thereof, shall be open to the public and Council shall provide by its rules that citizens shall have a reasonable opportunity to be heard at any such meeting in regard to any matter considered, or to be considered, thereat.” However, Mr. Moscsiran could not find any mention of a public comment segment in any of the proceedings in the City Record from 1924-1932.

Comparison of charter language, 1913 – today.

Current State of Public Comment at City Council and Committee Meetings

All City Council and committee meetings must be open to the public (with limited exceptions) under Ohio law.1 While the public must be able to attend and observe meetings, Ohio law does not require the City to permit public comment at meetings.2 Although not required by Ohio Law, Cleveland City Council may provide for public comment.3

City Council can provide a process that allows for regular public comment at Council and Committee meetings but it does not.4 Some other City of Cleveland boards, commissions, and committees, not under the purview of the City Council, provide for an opportunity to be heard.5 The proposed City of Cleveland Public Comment Ordinance is limited to addressing public comment at City Council and Council Committee meetings.

Public Comment Ordinance vs. Council Rule

City Council should adopt the proposed City of Cleveland Public Comment Ordinance as opposed to simply changing the City Council rules to allow for public comment. While many cities lay out the public comment process within City Council rules, it’s not unprecedented to provide for public comment in City law. For example, Columbus has an ordinance regarding public comment.6

Council Rules are recommended by the Rules Committee and tend to change regularly. Passing legislation will embed the public comment process within the ordinances of City Council. The ordinance could be amended in the future. Further, City Council may adopt additional City Council rules to respond to changes necessitated by an emergency or to further clarify or improve the public comment process, if necessary.

Notes:
  1. Ohio Revised Code Section 121.22
  2. Section 6 in this April 2020 Newsletter FAQ from the Ohio Attorney General
  3. Cleveland City Charter Chapter 5, Section 29
  4. Section 2 of City Council’s Rules for 2018-2021 provides that any citizen may request to be heard by Council. If Council wants to hear from that citizen then Council may resolve to enter Committee as a Whole to hear that citizen at the time, date, and length of time as determined by Council. Further, any Committee of Council may choose to hear from citizens. However, the Council rules do not provide a regular process for citizens to address Council at Council or Committee meetings or hearings.
  5. For example, Article V, Section 3 of the Landmarks Commission rules provide for the public to be heard and interested property owners and others may object or provide comments or information under oath that is pertinent to the case presented to Board of Zoning Appeals.
  6. City of Columbus Code or Ordinances, Section 111.12

Proposed Draft Cleveland Public Comment Ordinance

The proposed City of Cleveland Public Comment Ordinance reflects best practices found in comparable cities and public bodies. Each Section below provides both the proposed provision and a comparison of the matter in other cities.

Public Comment at Council Meetings

Who may address Council

Cleveland (Proposed)Members of the Public

How it compares:

Cuyahoga County CouncilMembers of the public. Section 105.03, Title 1 of Cuyahoga County Code Titles; Rule 17C
Columbus, OHGeneral public. Section 111.12
Akron, OHMembers of the public. Rule 5.3
Cincinnati, OH“Persons”
Youngstown, OHEach person can only speak once every 30 days. Candidates who have filed for public office may not speak. See form online and hard copy form
Pittsburgh, PAResidents or taxpayers of the City. Article III Section 4 (C)(i)

At what point in the meeting does Council accept public comments

Cleveland (Proposed)At the beginning of the Council meeting but only when quorum is present, and quorum must be maintained. The public comment period lasts until everyone who signed up to speak has done so, or for thirty (30) minutes, whichever comes first (although Council may choose to extend the public comment period). This allows for the public to address Council prior to Council making any decisions about a matter on the agenda, and it ensures that the public is engaged by at least a majority of the City Council.

How it compares:

Cuyahoga County CouncilTime set aside at the beginning of the meeting. Section 105.03, Title 1 of Cuyahoga County Code Titles; Rule 17C
Columbus OHNot within the ordinance or rules
Akron OHAt the end of every meeting (see fifth bullet point)
Cincinnati OHThirty minutes before the Council meeting. Rules of Council Section 2.6
Youngstown OHNot within the rules.
Pittsburgh PASecond order of business at regular Council meetings. Article III, Section 4 (C)(i)

For how long may a person address Council

Cleveland (Proposed)Each person may address Council for up to three minutes per person.

How it compares

Cuyahoga County CouncilThree minutes per person. Rule 17C
Columbus OHThree minutes per person. Section 111.12(2)(a)
Akron OHThree minutes per person. Public Comment sign up form and Rule 5.3
Cincinnati OH Two minutes per person. Rules of Council 2.6 (a)
Youngstown OHThree minutes per person. Rules of Speaking Before Council.
Pittsburgh PANo time limit provided.

How many people may address Council at a meeting, in what order

Cleveland (Proposed)People are called in the order in which their public comment forms are received by the Clerk of Council with residents addressing Council before non-residents. People who signed up but are unable to address Council during the meeting due to lack of time will be given priority at the next regular Council meeting. No limit on the number of people who may address Council, but a thirty-minute time limit.

How it compares:

Cuyahoga County CouncilNo set number specified; requests made before 12 PM the day of the meeting are given priority. Rule 17C
Columbus OHThree for and three against any ordinance, in the order the slips are received by the Clerk. Section 111.12(2)(a) Up to six speakers for non-agenda items, in the order the slips are received by the Clerk. Section 111.12(2)(b)
Akron OHNot indicated in rules.
Cincinnati OHSpeakers called in the order in which their speaker cards were received by the Clerk of Council until the thirty minutes lapses, anyone who didn’t get to speak has priority for the next meeting. Rules of Council Section 2.6(d)
Youngstown OHNo number or order indicated.
Pittsburgh PANo number or order indicated.

What can a comment be about

Cleveland (Proposed)Any agenda items and subjects that concern the legislative, administrative, public affairs of the City.

How it compares:

Cuyahoga County CouncilRelating to County business. Rule 17C.
Columbus OHAgenda items and subjects that concern the legislative or administrative responsibilities of city government. Section 111.12(2)(b)
Akron OHMatters within Council’s authority. Rule 5.3
Cincinnati OHAny topic. Council Rules Section 2.6(a)
Youngstown OHAnything except issues currently in litigation. Online form
Pittsburgh PAMatters of concern, official action or deliberation which are or may be before Council, and unless determined otherwise by a majority of Council Members present Article III Section 4(C)(i)

How do people sign up to address Council (during and after COVID-19)

Cleveland (Proposed)People who want to address Council during the public comment period must complete a public comment form and file it with the Clerk of Council. The form must be available online and in hard copy. A person may file their public comment form starting one week before they wish to address Council until the scheduled start of the public comment period. The public comment form will request the name, address and organization (if applicable) of the person addressing Council, whether the commenter requests language interpretation and the language to be interpreted, whether the commenter requests accessibility accommodation and the accommodation requested, and the subject. Any material or information to be distributed to Council must be submitted with the public comment form.

How it compares:

Cuyahoga County CouncilRequests to address Council provided to the Clerk on a specified form. Rule 17C.
During COVID, require public comment in writing via email submitted no
later than an hour before the meeting.
Columbus OHSpeaker slip filled out at City Hall and given to Clerk by 5 PM on the day they want to speak (Council meeting starts at 5 PM). Speaker slip includes name, address, organization (if applicable), ordinance number and whether for or against or topic if non-agenda item. Section 111.12(a)
Speaker slip currently available online due to COVID.
Akron OHForm submitted to the Council Clerk before the beginning of the meeting (can be emailed or mailed). Speaker form includes name, date, address, ward, telephone number, email, topic (on or off agenda) and signature. See form.
During COVID, citizens dial a phone number and leave a voicemail that is shared during the Council meeting. See website.
Cincinnati OHMust submit a speaker card to Council Clerk, can submit on Monday the week of the meeting through the very start of the meeting. Card must include name, address, organization (if applicable) and subject, and submitted along with any material or information to be distributed. Rule 2.6 (c)
Online registration form, online form says must be submitted by 2 PM the day before speaker plans to participate.
Youngstown OHSubmit form (online or hard copy) with name, address, phone number, email, meeting date, and subject.
Must submit Tuesday at noon prior to the Council meeting, per hard-copy form (Council meetings held on Wednesdays). See hard copy form, one week in advance per the online form.
Pittsburgh PAMust sign up using an online speaker form by 9 a.m. (meetings take place at 10 a.m.).
Form asks for name, address, phone number, email, in favor, opposed, or comments

Decorum surrounding public comment

Cleveland (Proposed)People addressing Council shall maintain the order of the meeting, and shall not engage in any conduct that disrupts, disturbs, or otherwise impedes Council’s ability to conduct its business. If the Presiding Officer determines that these rules are not being followed one warning will be given. The Presiding Officer has the discretion to preserve the order and decorum of the public comment period, but must be viewpoint-neutral. If the rules continue to be violated after one warning, the Presiding Officer may revoke the individual’s privilege to address Council at the meeting, but the violator may submit comments in writing instead.

How it compares:

Cuyahoga County CouncilNone for public comment specifically.
Columbus OHNo obscenity, defamation or slander, no disorderly conduct. If the council president determines that these rules are not being followed one warning will be given. Speaker’s conduct shall be subject to the right of the council president to preserve the order and decorum of the forum. If the rules continue to be violated after one warning, the council president may revoke the individual’s speaking privileges. Section 111.12(4)
Akron OHOn form: Speakers are reminded to keep their comments respectful and appropriate to Council business. No personal attacks will be permitted. The President has the authority to rule your remarks out of order and you may be removed from Chambers.
Any comments containing profanity or breach of decorum will not be transmitted during the Council meeting.
Cincinnati OHThe use of obscene or profane language, personal attack, libel, slander, defamation, physical violence or the threat thereof, as determined by the Presiding Officer, shall constitute a Disturbing a Lawful Meeting and the person may be removed and banned from meetings for 60 days. Rule 2.6 (f) and (g)
Youngstown OHSpeakers must refrain from speaking about specific individuals or officials and are to speak in general terms only. See online form for rules.
Pittsburgh PANone indicated

Changing the rules

Cleveland (proposed)Council cannot use the rules to waive the requirement to have public comment as set forth in Section (a). Council may temporarily vary or waive the specific requirements set forth in Section (a)(1) or (a)(2) by issuing rules approved by at least a majority of Council.

How it compares:

Cuyahoga County CouncilCouncil rules may be amended by adoption of a resolution, approved by at least seven (7) Members of Council. Rule 16B. However, County Code requires public comment at public meetings. Section 105.03, Title 1 of Cuyahoga County Code Titles ;
Columbus OHAny variance or waiver of these rules shall be by a majority vote of council. Section 111.12(6)
Akron OHCouncil can change the rules with a majority vote. Section 10.1
Cincinnati OHMajority of members may change the rules. Rule 1.3
Youngstown OHNone indicated.
Pittsburgh PANone indicated.

Public Comment at Committee Meetings and Hearings

Cleveland (Proposed)Members of the public.

How it compares:

Cuyahoga County CouncilMembers of the public. Section 105.03, Title 1 of Cuyahoga County Code Titles; Rule 17B
Columbus OHNo separate committee rules
Akron OHNo separate committee rules
Cincinnati OHMembers of the public. Rule 2.7
Youngstown OHPublic comment not permitted at Committee meetings.
Pittsburgh PANone indicated

At what point in the meeting or hearing does a Committee accept Public Comments

Cleveland (proposed)The Chair can decide if the public should comment before or after the Committee has discussed the items.

How it compares:

Cuyahoga County CouncilNot indicated in the rules.
Columbus OHNo separate committee rules
Akron OHNo separate committee rules
Cincinnati OHAt the discretion of the presiding officer to determine if the public should speak before or after committee discussion. Rule 2.7(a)
Youngstown OHPublic comment not permitted at Committee meetings.
Pittsburgh PAFirst order of business at standing committees in Pittsburgh

For how long may a person address the Committee

Cleveland (proposed)Three minutes, unless otherwise determined by the Chair. But public comment time must be uniform for all people for any given issue.

How it compares:

Cuyahoga County CouncilA “reasonable time limit” as determined by the Chairperson. Rule 17B
Columbus OHNo separate committee rules
Akron OHNo separate committee rules
Cincinnati OHThree minutes, unless otherwise specified by the presiding officer (but must be uniform for everyone). Rule 2.7(a)
Youngstown OHPublic comment not permitted at Committee meetings.
Pittsburgh PANone indicated.

How many people may address the Committee, in what order.

Cleveland (proposed)No limit on how many people may comment. People are called in the order in which their public comment forms are received by the Clerk of Council, the Chair may choose to group commenters on a certain agenda item.

How it compares:

Cuyahoga County CouncilChairperson shall honor all requests received before the Committee meeting, and as many received during the committee meeting as practicable. Rule 17B
Columbus OHNo separate committee rules
Akron OHNo separate committee rules
Cincinnati OHPresiding officer may choose to limit comments to three persons in support and three persons in opposition of any issue, each person may only speak once. Rule 2.7(b) Speakers called in the order in which their speaker cards were received by the Clerk of Council. Rule 2.7 (d)
Youngstown OHPublic comment not permitted at Committee meetings.
Pittsburgh PANone indicated

What a person’s comment can be about

Cleveland (proposed)Committee agenda items.

How it compares:

Cuyahoga County CouncilNot in the rules, but generally anything that is related to the meeting’s purpose. Section 105.03, Title 1 of Cuyahoga County Code Titles
Columbus OHNo separate committee rules
Akron OHMatters scheduled for public hearing, or with prior permission from committee chair. Rule 5.3
Cincinnati OHFirst, items on the Committee agenda. After the business portion of Committee meetings has concluded, persons who wish to speak on any issue may be granted the privilege of the floor for three minutes. Rule 2.7(a)
Youngstown OHPublic comment not permitted at Committee meetings.
Pittsburgh PANone indicated.

How do people sign up to address the Committee (during and after COVID-19)

Cleveland (proposed)People who want to address a Committee must complete a public comment form and file it with the Clerk of Council. The form must be available online and in hard copy. A person may file their public comment form starting one week before they wish to address the Committee until the scheduled start of the Committee meeting or hearing. The public comment form will request the name, address and organization (if applicable) of the person addressing the Committee, whether the commenter requests language interpretation and the language to be interpreted, whether the commenter requests accessibility accommodation and the accommodation requested,  and the subject. Any material or information to be distributed to the Committee must be submitted with the public comment form.

How it compares:

Cuyahoga County CouncilRequests to address a committee shall be made in writing with the requester’s name and topic to the Chairperson of the committee, before or even during a committee meeting. Rule 17A and B
Columbus OHNo separate committee rules
Akron OHNo separate committee rules
Cincinnati OHMust submit a speaker card to Council Clerk with name, address, organization (if applicable) and subject, and submitted along with any material or information to be distributed. Rule 2.6 ©
Online registration form, online form says must be submitted by 2 PM the day before speaker plans to participate.
Youngstown OHPublic comment not permitted at Committee meetings.
Pittsburgh PANone indicated.

Decorum surrounding public comment

Cleveland (proposed)People addressing a Committee shall maintain the order of the meeting, and shall not engage in any conduct that disrupts, disturbs, or otherwise impedes the Committee’s ability to conduct its business. If the Chair determines that these rules are not being followed one warning will be given. The Chair has the discretion to preserve the order and decorum of the public comment period, but must be viewpoint-neutral. If the rules continue to be violated after one warning, the Chair may revoke the individual’s privilege to address the Committee at the meeting or hearing, but the violator may submit comments in writing instead.

How it compares:

Cuyahoga County CouncilNone for public comment specifically.
Columbus OHNo separate committee rules
Akron OHNo separate committee rules
Cincinnati OHOne warning from Presiding Officer if speaking on a topic not on the agenda, if continued then may have to relinquish rest of speaker time.
The use of obscene or profane language, personal attack, libel, slander, defamation, physical violence or the threat thereof, as determined by the Presiding Officer, shall constitute a Disturbing a Lawful Meeting and the person may be removed and banned from meetings for 60 days. Rule 2.7(g) and (h)
Youngstown OHPublic comment not permitted at Committee meetings.
Pittsburgh PANone indicated

Changing the rules

Cleveland (proposed)Council may temporarily vary or waive the specific requirements set forth in Section (a)(1) or (a)(2) by issuing rules approved by at least a majority of Council. However, cannot use the rules to waive the requirement to have public comment as set forth in Section (a)

How it compares:

Cuyahoga County CouncilCouncil rules may be amended by adoption of a resolution, approved by at least seven (7) Members of Council. Rule 16B. However, County Code requires public comment at public meetings. Section 105.03, Title 1 of Cuyahoga County Code Titles ;
Columbus OHAny variance or waiver of these rules shall be by a majority vote of
council. Section 111.12(6)
Akron OHCouncil can change the rules with a majority vote. Section 10.1
Cincinnati OHMajority of members may change the rules. Rule 1.3
Youngstown OHNone indicated
Pittsburgh PANone indicated

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