Prompted by large crowds after police shooting, Elgin mayor to enforce time limit on public comments

  • Elgin Mayor David Kaptain, second from left, pictured here in 2017, said he plans to enforce time limits for public speaking at city council meetings in the wake of large crowds that have shown up recently.

      Elgin Mayor David Kaptain, second from left, pictured here in 2017, said he plans to enforce time limits for public speaking at city council meetings in the wake of large crowds that have shown up recently. Elena Ferrarin | Staff Photographer

 
 

Elgin Mayor David Kaptain said he plans to enforce time limits for public comment at city council meetings from now on, a move prompted by large crowds that have shown up for the last several months.

Kaptain called on the rule -- which hadn't been enforced in many years -- Feb. 13, when 35 people signed up to speak during a council meeting packed to its 240-person capacity. Kaptain announced people could speak for up to three minutes each, and that public comment would end after 30 minutes and resume after the council conducted all business on the agenda.

Residents have been showing up to speak about a fatal police shooting that took place nearly a year ago. Most often, the speakers have been people who oppose a return to duty for Lt. Christian Jensen, who fatally shot resident Decynthia Clements on March 12, 2018. Last week, the crowd included a large group of Jensen's supporters and others who wanted to speak about a separate matter involving a local business.

Nine people spoke Feb. 13, then public comment was halted for 40 minutes while the council debated agenda items. After public comment resumed, the audience had thinned out; 12 people spoke and 14 more who'd signed up did not answer when their names were called.

Five council members -- Tish Powell, Corey Dixon, Terry Gavin, Toby Shaw and Rose Martinez -- said this week they supported Kaptain's decision. As long as everyone gets a chance to speak, enforcing the rule is OK, they said.

Councilwoman Carol Rauschenberger, who is running for mayor against Kaptain on April 2, disagreed, saying everyone should get a chance to speak at the beginning of the meeting. "I think it maybe felt to (the speakers) that what they wanted to say wasn't that important," she said.

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Rauschenberger also pointed out that speakers might want to discuss topics that are on the council's agenda, so it's important to hear them out before a casting a vote. All city council decisions require two votes, one preliminary, one final.

Martinez said it's unfair to ask people in the audience who have business on the agenda to wait until all public comment is done, because that could take a long time.

Kaptain also said he plans to enforce propriety of language. He will give people who use swear words one warning, and will ask them to step away from the podium if it happens after that, he said.

Councilman John Steffen didn't respond to a request for comment.

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