Philadelphia Sued Over City Council Speech Rules

Patrick Duff says the state is violating the first amendment and state sunshine laws by forcing public comment sessions to be on a topic on the agenda.

"Justice" engraved on Philadelphia's City Hall

Photo | Jeff Fusco

A Philadelphia man has sued the city in federal court over the public comment rules at City Council meetings.

Patrick Duff, 38, argues city policy on public comment at City Council meetings violates the First Amendment and the state’s Sunshine Act. Duff’s lawsuit says city policy only allows for public comment on topics on the City Council agenda. Duff believes the city must allow citizens to comment on any subject at City Council meetings.

Four years ago, a lawsuit forced the city to have public comment at City Council meetings at all. For the past 60 years, City Council had limited public comments to committee meetings, rather than its general sessions.

Since the ruling, people can make speeches at Council meetings, but must address a topic that’s on the agenda. The rules are fairly loose: Duff was able to testify by picking an agenda and segueing into the topic he actually wanted to talk about. City Council’s legal advisor even told Duff to take this route after Duff had written “objection” in the area that asks for the agenda number on the sign-in sheet.

Duff has spoken at Council several times over the last month about the public comment rules. He announced his lawsuit in a City Council meeting during a public comment: “This is a lawsuit against the city that I had to file because you don’t allow open public comment.”

The suit is seeking an injunction against the city’s enforcement of its public comment rules. Per a KYW 1060 report, the city’s legal department believes City Council is in compliance with the law.

Patrick Duff v the City of Philadelphia