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City officials released a new seating policy amid increased disruptions and threats against council members.

First revealed by WBEZ, the city has officially released its new seating policy amid increased disruptions and threats against council members.

Pat Nabong

Chicagoans will need an ID and a reservation to sit in the main chamber of City Council meetings

The city of Chicago published its new seating arrangement policy for City Council meetings to the Clerk’s website Friday, providing further clarity on the controversial protocol that has received swift backlash from good government and civil rights groups.

The policy was developed by the council’s Sergeant-at-Arms and limits where members of the general public can sit if they don’t reserve a seat in advance. It blocks off the typically open second floor for council staff, those who reserve a seat, and those with access needs who reserve a seat, the new policy states. Others will be seated on the less accessible third floor.

People who reserve a seat for the main floor need to present a city, state, federal or school ID to access the second-floor chambers, according to the posted policy.

The nonprofit Better Government Association said Friday this type of policy is “virtually unheard of in Illinois.”

“Requiring registration for the meeting of a public body is a highly unusual step,” the statement reads.

The organization believes the new policy violates “the spirit and likely the letter” of the state’s Open Meetings Act, and urged the city to reverse course.

“BGA Policy notes Mayor Brandon Johnson’s background as a progressive and calls on him to exercise leadership to protect open meetings so residents of Chicago can hold their government accountable,” the statement reads.

The policy, first revealed by WBEZ before it had been posted publicly, comes after a series of chaotic meetings where Johnson or his appointed committee chairpersons have lost control over the public gallery, and unruly spectators have shouted at one another and alderpersons.

Those who do not reserve a seat will be directed to the third floor — a 70-seat gallery behind a glass partition that hangs over the council floor. It is linked to a sound system and microphone for public comment, but is notably less accessible than the second floor, which has rows of seats directly behind council members.

If the third floor fills up, the policy reads, members will be allowed in any open seats on the second floor.

Members of the public are now being directed to call the city or email “citycouncilseating@cityofchicago.org” between two weeks to 48-hours before a City Council meeting to request access.

When news of the policy first came out, Ald. Michelle Harris, 8th Ward, chairperson of the committee that appoints the sergeant-at-arms, said in a statement that the effort to keep council meetings in order is a “work in progress.”

Harris declined to provide an updated comment Friday.

Earlier this week, the BGA said in a letter to Mayor Brandon Johnson that the new protocols “likely are illegal,” stating, in part, the Illinois Open Meetings Act “does not allow for preferential treatment among different classes of attendees.”

Mariah Woelfel covers Chicago government and politics for WBEZ.

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