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Cleveland City Council amends public comment rules amid lawsuit

A bald man in a rose-colored shirt and cardigan wears a face mask as a person behind him holds up a sign reading, "Stand on the right side of history."
Matthew Chasney
Ideastream Public Media
Cleveland resident Chris Martin attends City Council's Jan. 22, 2024, meeting at which new rules for public comment were adopted. After his microphone was cut off during a public comment period, Martin filed a lawsuit against council in December 2023 arguing its rules were unconstitutional.

A legal battle between a Cleveland resident and City Council over public comment may soon end after council approved changes to their rules on Monday.

Public comment rules, first established in 2021, prohibited addressing individual council members and barred indecent or discriminatory language. On Monday, council voted to strike those rules to better comply with the First Amendment.

"We are dealing with some free speech issues," Griffin told members of council at a meeting earlier this month. "As long as we have an open mic, it's free speech and protected speech."

The rules change comes after Cleveland resident Chris Martin offered to settle a lawsuit over what he said was a violation of his constitutional rights when his microphone was cut at a September meeting.

Earlier this month, a judge temporarily blocked some of council's rules.

Martin’s legal team at Case Western Reserve University’s First Amendment Law Clinic proposed their own changes last Friday.

"I think it’s an incremental win," said Andy Geronimo, the executive director of Case Western Reserve University's First Amendment Law Clinic, which is representing Martin. "It’s certainly not perfect, but it seems like an improvement at least. Again, we’ll see how it’s applied, and I do have some concerns about that, but I would say the old policy was really, really bad, and this one doesn’t seem to be really, really bad."

Martin said he would like to see further changes than the ones approved Monday, including the removal of a 10-speaker limit and structured policies on how a resident can make a public comment at a committee meeting.

The changes approved Monday represent "a reactionary policy that seeks to reinforce the idea that the public must be held accountable to the council rather than the other way around," Martin said.

He also took issue with a rule addition that strictly prohibits food and drink within chambers. This comes after a resident's persimmons were confiscated at a meeting earlier this month.

Council’s new rules will not immediately go into effect. They will be reviewed by the judge assigned to the case.

Read the full rules here.

Abbey Marshall covers Cleveland-area government and politics for Ideastream Public Media.