The same aldermen who proposed new rules to limit crowd participation at City Council meetings said today they're in no hurry to see the rules enacted.
“I don’t know if we are going to rush a hearing on it, actually,” said Ald. Richard Mell, 33rd, chairman of the Rules Committee that the ordinance must get through.
A day earlier, Mell joined three other influential aldermen, including Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, in proposing the measure. Mell said he signed off on the idea when Burke brought it to him.
But today Burke said today the idea it was proposed by the council’s sergeant at arms, who owes her primary political allegiance to Mell. Burke said in a statement that the proposal “should make for a lively discussion.”
Instead of expressing support for the measure, Burke said it's up to the council “to decide if this body wishes to adopt the proposal.”
The ordinance would ban everything from signs and posters to clapping and booing in the public gallery at council meetings.
“No demonstration of approval or disapproval from members of the public shall be permitted within the City Council Chambers, including, but not limited to cheering, yelling, clapping, foot stomping, whistling, booing, or jeering, and if such demonstrations are conducted, the gallery or public seating area may be cleared,” states the proposed ordinance, which goes to the Rules Committee for a hearing.
The changes also would prohibit “signs, placards, banners or posters” within the chambers, unless pre-approved by Mayor Rahm Emanuel or the alderman leading the meeting.
Although loud demonstrations are frowned upon at council meetings, audience members have traditionally only been removed for the most egregious displays, like making obscene gestures or refusing to pipe down after being warned.
People often are told to put down signs in the chambers, so it has become a common tactic to wear T-shirts and buttons with various slogans.
Andy Thayer, a frequent protest leader, said that he believes the new proposal may spring from an incident last month when personnel from the sergeant at arms’ office asked him to put down signs he was handing out.
“I was told there was a rule against it,” Thayer said.
“ 'Show me it,' ” Thayer said he responded, “And of course they were unable to.”
That incident came at a meeting when the council tightened rules for protests in anticipation of the overlapping G-8 and NATO summits coming to Chicago in May. Thayer plans to protest at those events.
“We are having our civil liberties chipped away by a thousand cuts,” Thayer said, contending the newly proposed ordinance would allow the council to tolerate displays it approved of and ban those it didn’t want. “They are using G-8 and NATO as a way to roll this garbage out.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel today said his corporation counsel was looking into the proposal, and said he wanted to strike a balance between people's rights and the need for the council to get its work done.
"My first premise is, people have a First amendment right, as we've shown over time," Emanuel said while speaking to reporters at a news conference to announce Jose Santiago will be the new Fire Department commissioner. "There's a way to do First Amendment, and protect that -- people have the right to have their voices heard. Also, we have business to conduct, and we'll balance those two so people have their First Amendment right."