By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Where is free speech not quite free? Why, in Philadelphia City Council, where lawmakers impose restrictions on what the public can say at its weekly meetings. One speaker this past week made his displeasure with the rules quite evident.

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City Council for many years did not allow the public to speak at all at its regular meetings; citizens could appear only at committee hearings. That practice, however, was struck down in 2010 by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. So now Council does allow public comment at meetings, but only on the bills or resolutions that are up for a vote. This past week one resident, Patrick Duff, broke the rules and used his public comment to criticize the comment rules.

“Open public comment is something that even small cities across America have. And this city is the one where they signed the First Amendment! And I can’t just come and tell you about my thoughts and problems when you’re in a meeting?”

This prompted City Council President Darryl Clarke, who enforces the comment rules, to interrupt.

Clarke: “Do you want to testify on a bill or resolution? What do you want to talk about?”

Duff: “I wanted to come address a different issue. But I’m shocked and appalled that the Council doesn’t allow public comment.”

Clarke: “Sir, this is the public comment.”

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Duff: “Ah, but it doesn’t allow open public comment on non-agenda items.”

Clarke: “It’s pretty open.”

Duff: “The rule is that I can only comment on the agenda items.”

Duff went on to ask Clarke to reconsider the rule and allow comment on non-agenda items, “Because you might learn a little bit from your citizens, they’ve got a lot to say.”

Clarke’s reply was succinct, though non-responsive: “Thank you for your testimony.”

KYW Newsradio later emailed Clarke’s office, asking if he will consider ending the comment restriction.  They replied with this statement: “The City’s Law Department has thoroughly reviewed City Council’s public comment procedures and found the procedures to be in compliance with the  Sunshine Act (and, by extension, the First Amendment). ”

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