Cleveland City Council Approves Public Comment Rule Change

Cleveland City Hall seen from the street.
The policy will not go into effect until after the next meeting on Sept. 20. [Matt Richmond / Ideastream Public Media]

Updated: 2:38 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021

Public comment will soon be incorporated into Cleveland City Council meetings. Two amendments to council rules allowing people to speak passed Wednesday afternoon.

The first rule change adds public comment to the order of business for meetings and allows anyone to speak, regardless of whether they’re a resident of Cleveland. An additional amendment requires rule changes, like those allowing public comment, to be approved by the entire council before implementation.

Under the new rule, public comments will not be limited to current agenda items, but anyone who wants to speak will have to register ahead of the meeting. The first 10 registered speakers will be allotted three minutes each. The council will also accept written comments.

The second rule change was brought up as a result of feedback from Clevelanders for Public Comment, whose members spoke during a committee meeting earlier in the day.

Currently, rule changes are approved by the council president, the operations committee and the council clerk. The new amendment requires a majority of council to vote yes before a rule can be changed. 

“It really makes the council members also accountable for these rules in a more direct way, and I think we should be directly involved in approving them,” said Ward 15 Councilwoman Jenny Spencer.

The new public comment rule still faced criticism. It does not require comment during committee meetings, leaving the decision up to council chairs.

“From the beginning, Clevelanders for Public Comment was advised by council leadership that the real policy making happens in committee,” said Michelle B. Jackson. “One would logically assume, then, that an authentic rule change, versus a campaign talking point, would prioritize public comment at committee meetings.”

The reference to "a campaign talking point" comes as Council President Kevin Kelley runs for Cleveland mayor. He drew criticism during an Aug. 10 mayoral debate for his years of leadership of a body that did not allow public comment. He's been council president since 2014. 

"He has been the biggest obstacle in regards to public comment and hearing from the residents," said Ward 7 Councilman Basheer Jones, one of Kelley's mayoral opponents.

Kelley said he should be credited with ushering in public comment when no other council leaders had.

"It's been a long time, but I'm the first council president to do it and I'm pushing it forward and it's going to happen," he said.

Critics Wednesday said they would rather see public comment implemented as an ordinance rather than a rule change.

Members of Clevelanders for Public Comment called Kelley out for not engaging with them or their efforts to draft possible legislation.

“At a time when our democracy and such is in such a fragile state, I urge council to encourage the importance of cultivating and growing civic participation in our city,” said Nora Kelley, a member of the public comment group. “The refusal to engage such a broad-based coalition undermines trust, and treats critical governance questions as sport.”

An email from council's spokesperson said the second rule change means a delay to the start of public comment until after the full council meeting on September 20. Once council resumes its regular session, public comment will be available at each weekly council meeting.

This story has been updated to clarify that council meetings occur weekly during the regular session, and monthly during summer recess.

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