Inside Chicago’s first City Council meeting with public comment.

By Charles Preston and Calvin Rashaud Davis

Archive photo of City Council chambers (Photo: juggernautco/Flickr)

Archive photo of City Council chambers (Photo: juggernautco/Flickr)

We could not have picked a better day to attend a Chicago City Council meeting. A Cook County judge ruled last December that meetings must allow time for public comment to comply with the Open Meetings Act, so the mic was finally open today for community members to speak.

For a total of 30 minutes, individuals were granted three minutes each to express their grievances, frustrations and appreciation to the gathered aldermen. Once the clock reached the three-minute mark, the mic went dead.

Interestingly, as citizens poured out their concerns, the mayor could be seen having sidebar conversations from his perch above the rest of the council. One woman constantly shouted “Rahm’s not listening” as a reminder to all.

“Everyone knows where I stand because I don’t hide it,” said the woman, who gave her name as Ms. Jenkins. “I have a built-in microphone and I’m going to use it.”

Here’s what else we saw at the meeting.

A Different Type of Voice

Though the meeting allowed for public comment for the first time, that didn’t stop old-fashioned protest action. A coalition of student and youth groups including STOP Chicago, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice attempted to disrupt the chambers seven times through spontaneous chants demanding tax-increment financing money for Chicago Public Schools funding.

They chanted, “Education is a right, not just for the rich and white!” and, “We need teachers, we need books, we need the money that Rahm took!” Most aldermen did not seem rattled and some appeared to be a little amused; the mayor was visibly flustered.

Students started their chanting as council members discussed the North Branch Development project. With a passing vote of 46–2, this project changes the boundaries of the North Branch corridor’s Planned Manufacturing Districts.

Red Light Ticket Settlement

Discussion of the $38.75 million settlement grew heated as 9th Ward Alderman Anthony Beale vehemently voiced his frustrations with the structure of the class-action lawsuit which resulted in lawyers receiving the bulk sum of the funds, while actual plaintiffs were set to receive no more than $50 each.

Alderman Ed Burke, of Chicago’s 14th Ward, was the most vocal—issuing an “I told you so” to the rest of City Council.

“Stevie Wonder could see that there was something wrong with this program," said Burke, reminding the council and spectators that he had warned his colleagues about the dangers of the red light ticket program.

The two had a minor verbal squabble when Beale stated that each person involved in the class-action lawsuit would only receive $7. Burke immediately corrected Beale, stating that the amount would depend on the percentage of those opted in to the lawsuit—at most they’ll receive $42. Burke went further to rib on Beale’s CPS education.

It was an eventful meeting, and we’re excited to see what happens in the coming months with the implementation of the new public comment section. But we also wonder if the public will be speaking into the wind.

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