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Four aldermen want to silence public in City Council meetings

As the Chicago City Council prepared to vote on ordinances addressing security and protest permits for the upcoming NATO/G8 summits in Chicago at McCormick Place, a protester is removed from the Council Chambers. Wednesday, January 18, 2012 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Chicago City Council meetings could get a whole lot tamer – and less democratic – if four powerful committee chairmen have their way.

Aldermen Edward M. Burke (14th), Ray Suarez (31st), Richard Mell (33rd) and Carrie Austin (34th) want to change the City Council rules to prohibit the audience in attendance at Council meetings from expressing their excitement or displeasure with the proceedings.

One of the rule changes proposed at Wednesday’s meeting forbids “cheering, yelling, clapping, foot stomping, whistling, booing or jeering.” It warns that any such public displays would result in the chamber being cleared.

The second rule change would prohibit “signs, placards, banners or posters” in the Council chambers “except those with prior authorization from the presiding officer or chair.” That means Mayor Rahm Emanuel or president pro ten Michelle Harris (8th).

The new rules went over like a lead balloon with protesters expected to descend on Chicago for the NATO and G-8 summits May 19-21 at McCormick Place.

“What they want is a rubber-stamp audience for the rubber-stamp City Council,” said Andy Thayer, a spokesman for the Coalition Against NATO-G-8.

Thayer noted that during the debate over security measures for the summit, police attempted to remove demonstrators silently holding up signs protesting the changes.

“I challenged them,” Thayer said. “I said show us the rules that say we can’t do this. They couldn’t. They were lying. Now ex post facto, they want to change the rules. It’s outrageous.”

Protesters have already accused Emanuel of trying to force them to “sit down and shut up” with the watered-down security measures he has put in place for the unprecedented gathering of world leaders expected to shine an international spotlight on Chicago.

It is certain to be small comfort to those champions of civil liberties that there have been periodic threats to clear the City Council chambers for years – even without the two new rules.

Mell is the alderman who notoriously stood on his desk and shouted late into the night during the raucous session in which the Council named Ald. Eugene Sawyer acting mayor after the death of Harold Washington.