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home : city news : city news February 6, 2016

2/27/2013 1:22:00 PM
Citizen Comment Disrupted
By Shawn Jones

For nearly two years, Dr. Padma Rao  has appeared at Evanston City Council meetings to complain about the potential loss of some 20 trees on private property – the former Kendall College site between Colfax and Lincoln streets.

At the Feb. 25 meeting, she refused to leave the lectern used for citizen comment. Other citizens hoping to participate in citizen comment were forced to speak using the microphone of First Ward Alderman Judy Fiske, to the far right of the dais.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, has several times offered to meet with Dr. Rao and her mother, B.K. Rao, to discuss their complaints and offer solutions.

The response, reiterated Monday night, has always been, quite simply, “I do not want to talk to you.” She equated Ald. Grover’s efforts to mediate with “intimidation, tantrums and  harassment.”

The complaints, repeated at many meetings, center upon the planned subdivision of the Kendall College property so as to allow for the construction of single-family homes on the site.

If the homes are ever built – the project has been stalled and undergone owner changes ever since it was approved – some of the trees will have to be removed to make way for homes.

In an effort to save as many trees as possible the City proposed, and the developer agreed, to a change in a proposed alley within the project. Several trees will be spared as a result.

How much leverage the City actually had in requiring a private-property owner to preserve trees is subject to question.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl has ruled the Kendall matter out of order because the matter has already been voted upon and is no longer in Council’s jurisdiction.

Similarly, ethical complaints raised by the Raos have been investigated by the City’s ethics committee and ruled upon, making them out of order as well, the Mayor said.

Council members have discussed changing Council’s rules to further limit citizen comment (right now it is limited to 45 minutes with each speaker getting a maximum of three minutes) or shifting comments to the end of the meeting, after business has concluded.

To date they have rejected such changes, though on Monday night Eighth Ward Alderman Ann Rainey proposed suspending the rules just for the night and shifting citizen comment to the end of the meeting. Her proposal failed.

After ruling Dr. Rao out of order for repeatedly addressing topics that were outside Council’s jurisdiction, Mayor Tisdahl turned off the microphone Dr. Rao was using at the lectern and asked the next speaker to approach. Dr. Rao remained at the lecturn.

As the situation continued to escalate, Council called for a recess and the aldermen filed out into the hallway. Ald. Grover invited residents in Council chambers to speak with Dr. Rao, and several took her up on the invitation. One person asked, “Can I just have my chance to speak for three minutes?”

Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2013
Article comment by: Junad Rizki

This story misses the entire point of the issue.

Yes Doctor Rao disrupted the citizen comment, but Mayor Tisdahl disrupted Doctor Rao's right to free speech.

Mr Jones as a lawyer ( reporter) should understand the consitution, at a open mico forum at a public meeting such as the council the speakers have a right to free speach. I think this is well documented,

The city legal department has created bongus, legal opinions, that basically say the Rao's can not speak on this matter.

The Mayor several council meeting ago disrupted me during public comment stating I could not claim staff was incompetent in regards to allowing the Lit Theater to go from $600,000 to $1,7 million, are they planning to add a rule that I can't talk about this at public comment? Recently during economic development one alderperson stated I was repeating my self about the Wine and Cheese Bar and that she did not like the fact I have been stating its is failed project, since she thinks its a great success.

Let be clear here, some may view the Raos comments as Uncivil, and just they are repeating the same issue, but the bigger issue is they have a right to free speech.

I believe the city knows quite well they have this right, and it is the Mayor who is acting out of order here.

At the last meeting when the mic was shut off, a police officer got up to approach the podium, they other police officer stop her. I suspect they well understand they can not arrest the Rao's or they will be facing a large legal suit.

Yes the Rao's disrupted citizens comment but the Mayor disrupted the Rao's right to free speech.

Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2013
Article comment by: Ginny Stanton

With a law school practically at the Doorsteps of the City of Evanston, what harm could it do to bridge this issues of trees, on the former Kendall land, with OPEN CITIZEN AND LAW SCHOOL STUDENT DEBATES ON THE AFORESAID TOPIC. Maybe, Dr.Padma Rao's objections, for the last three years, could also start making sense to Evanston residents. I was surprised that this topic had not been resolved in three years.

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