CITY HALL — By one measure, last Tuesday’s City Council meeting — the first to be conducted under a recently adopted set of procedural rules aimed at moving meetings along at a brisker pace — was a remarkable success.
Adjourned at 9:41 p.m., it made for a comparatively early night for council members used to wrapping up around midnight.
But to one attendee, the new rules were cause for protest — and for a $10 million claim against City Hall.
Pro Se, a regular at City Council meetings who is confined to a wheelchair, objected to the new meeting format because the change meant there is no longer a public comment period at the beginning reserved for disabled members of the public who wish to address the council.
Instead, those who can’t wait until an agenda item is called to speak — whether because of a disability or some other reason — are now being asked to submit their comments in writing.
It’s a change that Pro Se, a frequent critic of the council and City Hall, said was a constitutional violation that amounts to discrimination against the disabled.
By doing away with the early public comment period for those in need of special accommodations, he said the council was in effect denying the disabled an equal right to participate in democracy.
In what he called “an act of defiance,” Pro Se remained in the vicinity of the podium throughout the Sept. 28 meeting — a show of endurance that he said caused further injury to his spine and the loss of some use of his right arm.
In a claim filed with City Hall last Thursday, he said the injuries should entitle him to $10 million in compensation.
Despite the sky-high claim, officials were not alarmed by the potential for liability.
“We get claims on everything from A to Z,” said City Clerk Maria Stewart.
Marsha Moutrie, the City Attorney said: “I don’t have any concerns about it. The city is not legally required to allow any members of the public to speak early. We are only required to make the same opportunities available to all, and we do.”
Seeming to acknowledge the claim would inevitably be rejected, Pro Se said he plans to take his battle for damages to court.
But he said he’s not planning to continue his protest at the council’s next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 12.