Tompkins County
New York

Report or Discussion Item
7142

Privilege of the Floor - Sign-in Form

Information

Department:Tompkins County LegislatureSponsors:
Category:Routine Departmental Activities or Statistics

Attachments

  1. Printout
  2. privilege of the floor form (This file has not yet been converted to a viewable format)

Resolution/Document Body

Here are the only two suggestions that were sent to me of how to alter the blue cards to provide optional anonymity.     - Dan Klein

 

1.              Add under the signature line:

“If you do not feel comfortable with your name being announced in public please write a four digit number that includes your birth month followed by birth day. For example, April 11 would be 0411. This number will be used to identify you for your turn to speak.”

 

 

 

1.              Leave the statement of the rules of decorum as it stands. Then:

 

First Name: ____________________   Last Name (optional): ___________________________

Do you live or work in Tompkins County?  Yes ___  No ___

Are you speaking for yourself? Yes ___  No: ___ 

If you are not speaking for yourself, for whom are you speaking?  ________________________

NOTE: BY SUBMITTING THIS CARD, YOU ARE AGREEING TO ABIDE BY THE RULES OF DECORUM OF THE TOMPKINS COUNTY LEGISLATURE, AS STATED ABOVE.

 

Meeting History

Jul 5, 2017 3:30 PM  Government Operations Committee Regular Meeting

Mr. John said this item was included on the agenda at his request. He explained a situation that happened at a recent meeting at which a public speaker refused to identify themself. He said the individual had attended a prior meeting and verbally attacked a County employee and this is one of the areas addressed on the blue sign-in form. He said Legislators are elected officials and can expect this but feels strongly this should not be allowed to happen to County employees and noted there are ways the public can communicate about an employee if they feel the employee has done something wrong. Mr. John believes Privilege of the Floor is one of the most important parts of the meeting and having people express views without fear of retaliation is critical. He also said if there is going to be an effective system of feedback you have to lookout for whistleblowers. He questioned, however, if the County would be more or less transparent by not identifying speakers because Legislators would not know who speakers are or what their interests might be as individuals who do not identify themselves or where they are from could be lobbying on behalf of an organization. Mr. John also spoke of the evolution of the internet and said people now say anything without there being any consequence. He stated the County wants to be protective and wants to make sure that people who come before the Legislature are comfortable and feel protected. He presented a compromise and said if an individual wants anonymity they could submit an anonymous written statement that could be read by a Legislator or the Clerk with the condition that the rules are followed. This would provide a protection and the Legislature would be aware of who the individual is.

Ms. Chock spoke of the general mistrust of government and it being at an all-time high. She thinks this Legislature should begin to think about setting standards that can begin to influence that in this community. She believes it is time to recognize there are concerns and end use of the blue sign-in form. She spoke of research she has done and circulated advisory opinions from Bob Freeman of the New York State Committee on Open Government. The documents site Mr. Freeman stating he has been asked the question several times and does not believe that persons can be required to provide their identity or address as a condition to attending or participating in the same manner as other public. She said it is helpful for Legislators to have this information where people voluntarily give it. One concern she has is that over the years there have been times when several people who don't live or work in Tompkins County have spoken and suggested a question be asked as to whether the person resides or works in Tompkins County.

Mr. Burbank said the Legislature needs to be cognizant of the current climate; it can be very stressful and also noted the blue sign-in forms came about because a very small group of people decided to defy the Legislature's rules for speaking and refused to stop when asked to do so. He said this is a legislative body that operates under a series of rules and procedures. He said sharing an opinion is inherently taking a risk regardless of where the opinion is shared. He also said that anyone who speaks to this body should be aware that what is stated is part of a public record and noted many meetings are televised. He suggested language could be added to the form to make it clear that presence in the room during a meeting could be made public by virtue of the video system. Mr. Burbank thinks the Legislature would be doing the public a disservice by doing away with a system of order that was put into place over time. He would be willing to consider tweaks to the form but would not support abandoning.

Ms. Kiefer said although informed and helpful, Bob Freeman’s opinions are advisory. She thinks the blue sign-in forms have served a purpose and would not support doing away with them. She has found it helpful to know each speaker’s name and what constituency they are in. She said this is a public forum and information is going to be public in some way. She responded to comments about inaccurate information contained on the blue card and said information is only useful to the extent it is true. She would like the Legislature to continue using the blue sign-in forms and ask for the speakers name, part of the County they are from, and an option to list the topic; she would also consider amendments to the three minutes when several people are speaking about the same topic.

Mr. Klein said he is interested in knowing where people are from. He said the opinion of someone who is from Tompkins County is more valuable to him and referenced comments made in the past by individuals from outside the area and State who were lobbying for a particular issue. Mr. Klein said Legislature meetings are public meetings and is unclear why there would be an expectation for anonymity. Although he understands there may be reasons an individual would not want to come forward with their identity there are many alternative ways members of the public to contact a Legislator without publicly identifying one’s self.

Mr. Klein asked that any proposed changes to the form be submitted to him in advance of the next meeting.

Ms. Chock asked if there would be any penalty if someone did not list their name on the form or if they included incorrect information. Mr. Wood said the Legislature has never imposed a penalty on anyone for not including their name although a chair could refuse to call on someone. In terms of whether completing the form with false information could be a crime he isn’t aware of a similar case. Ms. Chock said she would find it helpful to have more information on this at the next meeting.

RESULT:COMPLETED
Aug 2, 2017 3:30 PM  Government Operations Committee Regular Meeting

Mr. Klein reminded Committee members of the information that has been distributed related to this topic including the City’s rules for speaking and public speaking policies from several surrounding counties. He received the following two proposals for changing the sign-in form:

1. Add under the signature line:

“If you do not feel comfortable with your name being announced in public please write a four digit number that includes your birth month followed by birth day. For example, April 11 would be 0411. This number will be used to identify you for your turn to speak.”

2. Leave the statement of the rules of decorum as it stands. Then:

First Name: ____________________ Last Name (optional): ___________________________

Do you live or work in Tompkins County? Yes ___ No ___

Are you speaking for yourself? Yes ___ No: ___

If you are not speaking for yourself, for whom are you speaking? ________________________

NOTE: BY SUBMITTING THIS CARD, YOU ARE AGREEING TO ABIDE BY THE RULES OF DECORUM OF THE TOMPKINS COUNTY LEGISLATURE, AS STATED ABOVE.

Ms. Chock said she agrees with people that here in Tompkins County our attitude has always been and should continue to be welcoming as possible in a formal environment and to have people come and give input. Prior to her serving as a Legislator, she said when she would report to various committees it was very intimidating to come to a venue where people are focused on you. She said she would support not using the forms for a period of time to see how the meetings go.

Ms. Kiefer thought the second suggestion submitted is helpful and would consider the proposal; however, she continues to believe the forms are useful and Privilege of the Floor should be continued and done in an orderly way. In reference to the policies for public speaking in other counties, she does not agree with some of their practices.

Mr. John said he sees value in the forms. People who come before government to speak should abide by some rules of decorum and believes the rules in place are reasonable. He agrees that the second proposal is a reasonable compromise but would add municipality as an option.

Ms. Kelles stated the first suggestion is the one she submitted, but would like to change it to instead of a four-digit number to include a “moniker”.

It was MOVED by Ms. Chock to amend the form to delete Rules 2-6, move the bold language at the bottom of the form to be Rule #2, and to add Ms. Kelles suggestion to include “moniker” under the signature line. MOTION FAILED DUE TO LACK OF A SECOND.

Mr. John said it is important to have rules in place; it allows the Chair of a meeting to take any necessary action to preserve order. He said one of his concerns is to protect non-elected County employees to avoid damaging and untrue statements being made.

Mr. Klein said that he does not understand why someone attending a public meeting would have an expectation to be anonymous. He believes transparency is best for Legislators and the public. There are a number of ways people can contact Legislators to share information if they do not wish to be identified publicly. However, he said he has spoken to many people about this issue and said very few agree with his position. Based on those conversations, he said he is willing to support some modification to the form such as making the name and municipality optional.

Ms. Kiefer spoke about Rule #4 and said she would like to propose rewording it to read “I agree not to speak about individual County personnel other than elected officials”. Mr. Klein asked the Committee to finish the discussion and question about anonymity before moving to other topics and rules on the form.

Ms. Chock said she would support Mr. Klein’s suggestion to make the name and municipality optional.

Mr. Burbank believes addressing a public body is a public act and that the public has a right to know who is speaking. However, he understands this issue is important to some people in the community and said he could accept some variation of shielding the person’s name if they so choose as they are being summoned to the microphone to speak as long as they have given their actual name and municipality and signed off on the rules. These forms were created to help maintain order and decorum for meetings.

Mr. Klein said he would like to discuss with the County Attorney what is considered a public record as it relates this issue.

Discussion followed and Mr. John MOVED, seconded by Mr. Burbank, to amend the form as follows:

First Name (please print): ______________ Last Name (optional): ______________________

Municipality of Residence (optional): __________________________________________________

Mr. Wood addressed the question about maintaining the sign-in forms as a record and said there is no requirement the minutes reflect who speaks; however, once you make a record there is law that outlines the retention period. He does not believe the law addresses these forms specifically and that he would have to look into it.

It was MOVED by Ms. Chock to amend the motion and add County of Residence without it being optional. MOTION FAILED DUE TO LACK OF A SECOND.

Discussion followed concerning whether this Committee would approve any changes to the form or if a recommendation would be made to the Legislature for approval. With the exception of Ms. Chock, the Committee agreed the Legislature should approve any changes to the form.

A voice vote on Mr. John’s amendment as follows: Ayes - 4, Noes - 1 (Burbank). AMENDMENT CARRIED.

RESULT:COMPLETED