Public comment starts at Cleveland City Council Monday night

A man leaves Cleveland City Hall.
The public will be able to provide input at full council meetings after a campaign this year pushed for the change. [Nick Castele / Ideastream Public Media]

Monday night's first-ever public comment period for Cleveland City Council will give up to ten people a chance to bring concerns before council members.

Resident and activist Randy Cunningham was part of the campaign that pushed for public comment to be implemented over the last year. He signed up to speak at the Monday meeting, where he’ll be pushing for further reform to make that comment period more accessible and user-friendly.

“It was a real model campaign on how to go about things, but we’re still a long way away from being able to pat everyone on the back,” Cunningham said. “But hey, I’ll take three minutes. I didn’t have three minutes before.”

It shouldn’t have taken a hundred years to get public comment on the agenda, Cunningham said, especially when it’s common in other cities already. Additional measures like incorporating public comment as an ordinance and allowing more time for speakers would improve the system, Cunningham said.

“They’ve just done the minimum amount that’s needed to, I guess, get us off their back,” Cunningham said. “They’ve at least got something. But we need to work on making it a little more user-friendly.”

It’s harder to make change in Cleveland as a resident or concerned individual compared to the influence of businesses and local officials, Cunningham said. But local activism has undergone an “awakening” in recent years, he said, bringing larger pushes for change like public comment.

As of Friday morning, eight people had signed up to comment. The sign-up process was simple and straightforward, said Grace Heffernan, who plans to speak on behalf of the Northeast Ohio Worker Center. But Heffernan hopes more options become available for those who don’t have regular internet access, she said.

“While the process was really great for someone like me, I know that some of the folks that we most need to hear from in our community do not have those same resources or accessibility,” Heffernan said.

Heffernan will be talking about federal grant money to improve the system for unemployment benefits. She appreciates the opportunity to bring the issue to the council’s attention directly, she said.

“This is a incredibly time-sensitive opportunity, so our ability to be able to talk about this issue despite it not being formally on the agenda, is so critically important,” Heffernan said. “Residents and community members need to be able to talk about what’s going on in their groups and their lives in a way that might not always align with what’s on the formal agenda.”

The sign-up period comes to a close Mondays at 2 p.m. before that night's meeting, according to a city council spokesperson, and people can sign up through an online form, by email or in person at City Hall. Each speaker will be given three minutes for their comments.

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