CHICAGO (CBS) — It was a historic day for the Chicago City Council on Wednesday, as members of the public for the first time lined up to speak at the beginning of a full council meeting.
George Blakemore, the most frequent speaker at City Council committee meetings – as well as Cook County Board meetings and other government body meetings in the Chicago area – was the first person to take advantage of a public comment period at the start of a regular meeting of the full council.
“This is historical. Citizens, you are now allowed to speak at City Council. Why did it take so long?” he said.
Last year, a Cook County judge ruled the City Council was in violation of the Open Meetings Act by not allowing public comment at full City Council meetings, after a group of activists sued for the right to speak at all such meetings.
The City Council later adopted a rule allowing up to 10 people to speak for up to 3 minutes each at the start of every regular meeting.
Blakemore, who generally introduces himself at public meetings as a “concerned citizen,” spoke out in favor of minority contracting, and criticized Chicago’s status as a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants.
Next up was Robert Rohdenburg, an organizer with ONE Northside, spoke about the plight of the homeless in Uptown, who fear being permanently evicted from Lake Shore Drive viaducts when the city adds bike lanes and iron fencing where the homeless have previously set up tent cities.
“There’s yet to be a plan for the relocation of the homeless under the viaducts,” Rohdenburg said.
Activist Wallace “Gator” Bradley applauded the new public comment period.
“This shows the city the power that we have as a people,” he said.
Gay activist Rick Garcia, one of the plaintiffs who sued to force the city to allow public comments at full council meetings, had the last word on Wednesday.
“It certainly isn’t enough, especially considering the hours of time you take in honoring parishes, Boy Scout troops, heroes, retirees, sports teams, and the elderly and the dead,” he said.
On this day, there were only two such resolutions, but at other meetings those honoraria often take up more time than the rest of the agenda.