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Akron City Council considers rule changes, including limits on public comment

Akron City Council
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Akron City Council members listen as a citizen speaks during the public comment period of the meeting held on Nov. 13, 2023.

Akron City Council is considering making changes to its rules, including limiting its public comment period to 10 speakers.

New legislation introduced Monday proposes starting meetings at 6:30 instead of 7 p.m. and moving the public comment period to the beginning of the meetings. Currently, it’s one of the last agenda items.

This change would allow people to speak on issues before they’re voted on, Council President Margo Sommerville said during council’s rules committee meeting Monday.

“These changes are ideas and ways in which we can make public comment period more meaningful, by having the public be able to speak first. They can talk and address council before any official vote or action is taken,” Sommerville said.

Sommerville co-sponsored the ordinance alongside Council Vice President Jeff Fusco.

Currently, there is no limit to the number of speakers. Speakers are limited to three minutes for their comment, which would remain under the proposed rule changes.

Citizens have packed Akron's council meetings in recent weeksto criticize the council for a resolution on the Israel-Hamas war. Public comment has typically lasted for more than an hour at these meetings.

Councilmember Linda Omobien opposes limiting the speakers to 10, noting that some nights, there are only a handful of speakers.

“Certainly, when you have issues you tend to have more,” Omobien said. “I’m not concerned about the number of people speaking to us. I’m just glad that they’re interested enough to come down, or to request to address us.”

Several council members questioned another proposed change that would permit speakers to participate in public comment once every thirty days.

Councilmember Tara Mosley is hesitant about that change.

“I think that’s going to be problematic. Definitely, we need to talk to the community about that,” Mosley said.

A piece of legislation proposed alongside the ordinance would prohibit signs and banners from being brought into council chambers. Attendees would be screened for backpacks, signs, flags, banners, smoking or vaping devices, whistles and noisemakers.

The ordinance is meant to “provide for safe, accessible, and efficient” council meetings, according to the language of the legislation.

Councilmember Shammas Malik, the city’s incoming mayor, said he agreed with some of the safety provisions but wants council to hear from the community before voting.

“I do think that there are changes that are welcome, particularly on signage and some of the things like that and making sure there’s decorum, but I do want to encourage us to move slowly on this and to listen to feedback from people,” Malik said.

Council voted to take time on both proposals to gather input from the community.

If passed, the council's rules would be similar to Cleveland City Council’s, which already limit public comment to 10 people. Cleveland also prohibits signs and banners.

Cleveland council members have considered additional rules changesafter several tense public comment periods in the past month.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.