Waukegan City Council to conduct ‘orderly’ meetings
By Dan Moran firstname.lastname@example.org | @NewsSunDanMoran January 24, 2014 6:12PM
Waukegan Mayor Wayne Motley altered the rules governing audience time during City Council meetings this week. | Sun-Times Media file
Updated: February 26, 2014 6:03AM
In an effort to conduct what he called “an orderly meeting,” Mayor Wayne Motley altered the rules governing audience time during City Council meetings this week, saying “it’s very difficult to conduct the business of the city when individuals rant and rave about issues that are not pertinent to the agenda.”
On the published agenda for the meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 21, audience time was split into two opportunities: one for “agenda items only” prior to voting matters, and another for “general discussion” following aldermen’s time, which had been the final business conducted at meetings.
“We made the change because we wanted the people (speaking) about legitimate items that were on the agenda to have the opportunity to discuss them right away,” said Motley, “and we put the other ones at the bottom because they weren’t about agenda items.”
Though not saying that the move was made due to any one individual, local activist Chris “Brotha” Blanks of the Black Abolitionist Movement for the Mind has spoken during audience time on a near-weekly basis in recent years and has at times directed criticism either at the city in general or at specific officials.
When Blanks spoke during the second phase of audience time this week, he criticized 4th Ward Ald. Harold Beadling for comments made earlier this month regarding an allegation of police misconduct pending against the city. Blanks was cut off by corporation counsel Steve Martin.
“Mr. Blanks, pursuant to (our) code of conduct at City Council meetings,” Martin said, “you’re not allowed to make any rude remarks, you’re not allowed to attack individuals, which is what I believe you’re in the area of at this point in time.”
Martin was referring to an ordinance passed in May 2007 that requires audience comments to be on “topics directly relevant to the business of the City Council” and to avoid “disruptive behavior, personal attacks and slanderous speech.”
On Tuesday, Martin told Blanks that “if you wish to address in a proper, respectful manner the council, please proceed. if you wish to continue to attack and defame and be rude to individuals of this administration and the police department, then I would ask please have a seat.”
“I appreciate those comments,” Blanks responded, “and I would only ask on behalf of the citizens that as you’re asking me to be respectful to you all and not to insult you all, (that) you show the same mutual respect toward our citizens to make sure they’re treated with fairness, justice (and) equality.”
Blanks had a similar experience on Jan. 14 before the Lake County Board, which limits public comment strictly to “business related to the board.” Motley said on Thursday, Jan. 23, that Waukegan considered limiting its audience time to one similar session, but decided to go with a second option for general discussion.
“This is the best way to move this forward and still allow our citizens to voice their concerns and opinions,” Motley said. “We looked at (the county policy) as well, but we didn’t want people dissenting from the city to not have a voice. I want people who have issues with the city to have a forum, and that’s why we moved it to the end.”
The council’s history with audience time includes a lawsuit brought in 2004 by a man who was barred from speaking by then-mayor Richard Hyde over an alleged insult to a city employee prior to the meeting. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later ruled that Hyde had violated the man’s First Amendment rights.
The rules of decorum drawn up seven years ago state that a speaker “may be barred from further remarks at that city council meeting and barred from further attendance at that meeting” if they violate the rules, which include electioneering, becoming “threatening or boisterous” or exceeding three minutes in length.
The 2007 ordinance adds that “nothing herein is intended to limit or restrain negative, positive or neutral comments about the manner in which an individual employee, officer, official or council member carries out his or her duties in public office or public employment of the city.”