Cleveland City Council meets to discuss potential changes to public comment on Nov. 13.
Cleveland City Council meets to discuss potential changes to public comment on Nov. 13. Credit: Alicia Moreland / Cleveland Documenters

Covered by Documenter Alicia Moreland (live-tweets)

Laying down the law

Cleveland City Council members gathered to discuss possible changes to public comment.

Cleveland City Council President Blaine Griffin kicked off the meeting by reminding people that although everyone was welcome to attend, this meeting would not be used for community feedback.

Griffin said he is concerned about how contentious and disruptive public comment has been during the last few City Council meetings. That includes repeated protests from residents in the wake of Israel’s war on Gaza, though some council members expressed concerns about non-Cleveland residents giving public comment.

Griffin shared a draft of the proposed public comment changes with everyone in the meeting. One example: Public comment would be limited to “one item currently under consideration by City Council.” That was defined as an item that has been introduced, is pending or being discussed by all or part of council.

Proposed rules could also limit comments that are “frivolous, repetitive or harassing in nature.” Those terms were not defined in the draft. 

Although the First Amendment applies to public comment, speech may be restricted, according to Rachel Nigro Scalish, a lawyer representing City Council. Unlike a street corner where free speech isn’t supposed to be restricted, the government can choose to limit public comment because it is not a true public forum.

Public comment pushback

Council members Rebecca Maurer, Ward 12, and Brian Kazy, Ward 16, opposed new restrictions on public comment. Maurer shared concerns that the changes to public comment seem punitive. Kazy suggested moving public comment to the end of City Council meetings.

Griffin and Ward 1 Council Member Joe Jones cited safety concerns and decorum as reasons for revisiting the rules of public comment.

Maurer challenged them by saying that the changes make it seem as though City Council is afraid of residents and what they have to say.

Council didn’t vote on the new rules.

Read the live-tweet thread from Documenter Alicia Moreland:

Signal background

Suggested Reading

Service Journalism Reporter (she/her)
Dakotah is a journalist and audio producer dedicated to untangling bureaucracy and providing power (information) to the people of Cleveland. She spent 10 years on the frontlines of direct service working with youth and system-impacted communities before receiving her master's in media advocacy from Northeastern University. Dakotah is part of the Community team whose mission is to listen and amplify the issues Clevelanders care about most.

Cleveland Documenters pays and trains people to cover public meetings where government officials discuss important issues and decide how to spend taxpayer money.