The urge probably hasn’t struck you in awhile, but if you decide you need to address the board of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago at an upcoming meeting, you may or may not be allowed to. If you do get the go-ahead, you may or may not have three minutes to say what you may or may not need to say, and you may not be allowed to continue.
District officials say they’re changing some of the procedures for public meetings in response to the deadly shooting at a City Council meeting in Missouri in February. Members of the public who want to sit in on the board’s discussions of things like engineering contracts and real estate transactions already have to sign in, present a picture ID, pass through a metal detector, and submit any bags to a search by district police. Under new regulations presented at Thursday’s board meeting, observers would also be officially prohibited from sitting in the first two rows of the board room, bringing a cup of coffee with them, or getting noticeably antsy: “No members of the general public shall move about the boardroom during meetings. Members of the general public will not be allowed to leave their seats, stand or make comments, engage in discussions, commentary or any other verbal communications during a Board meeting, except as permitted by the Rules of the Board of Commissioners of the District.”
The board has traditionally set aside time to hear up to three minutes of comments from anyone who fills out a speaker’s request form. Under the new proposals, district officials would reserve the right to say, “Um, maybe not.”
“It is within the presiding officer’s discretion whether or not to allow members of the public to speak,” the proposed rules say. “If a request to speak is granted, the speaker shall have three minutes unless more or less time is allowed by the presiding officer. The presiding officer may terminate a speaker’s remarks at his discretion, including but not limited to instances where the speaker uses foul, disrespectful or other inappropriate language, or displays inappropriate materials while speaking or for any other reason the presiding officer deems appropriate.”
After they were introduced Thursday, commissioner Debra Shore quickly moved to table the new rules until she and the other board members had more time to study and discuss them. Commissioners agreed to hold a separate meeting to do this in the next few weeks. Then they debated for several minutes before deciding it would be safe and appropriate to conduct it in public.