A resolution to limit legislators’ speaking time to three minutes – the same as members of the public – during privilege of the floor did not pass Tuesday.

When members of the public address Tompkins County Legislature, they are allowed three minutes to speak with a countdown timer running on a screen in the back of the room.

A resolution written by Rich John, D-Ithaca, said that a legislator should limit remarks to three minutes during privilege of the floor “in order to match the amount of time” permitted to members of the public. However, a speaker’s three-minute limit could be extended at the chair’s discretion.

The move to limit legislators’ speaking times was also meant to help speed up meetings and move the agenda along, John said.

“Ultimately I think if we want a diverse legislature we need to have meetings that are reasonable in length to attract as many qualified people as we can, particularly people with young children, families, people who work in the morning that have to get up and go,” John said.

However, Carol Chock, D-Ithaca, substituted the original resolution to say instead of limiting remarks, that legislators would be “encouraged” to limit their time to three minutes. Anna Kelles, D-Ithaca, also added an amendment to have a clock running in the background so legislators are aware of how much time they are taking.

Mike Sigler, R-Lansing, said he was against “all of this.” Sigler said while legislators should be “pithy,” they also represent thousands of people.

“With that comes some responsibility, and you’re responsibility is to speak,” Sigler said.

Legislature chair Mike Lane, D-Dryden, also said he was not in favor of limiting legislators’ speaking time during privilege of the floor to match the public’s three minutes.

“Remember this is the meeting of the legislators … the folks who come to speak to us we allow to speak to us as a courtesy and because we want to hear from people in the community,” Lane said.

As chair, Lane said he does not see legislators taking too long to speak during privilege of the floor, but rather in debate.

Martha Robertson, D-Dryden, favored the resolution because “self discipline doesn’t seem to be working,” she said.

Legislators debated the issue for about 25 minutes Tuesday, but ultimately the resolution did not pass with a tie vote 7-7. For a rule change, 10 legislators would have had to approve. Legislators Mike Sigler, Jim Dennis, Dooley Kiefer, Dan Klein, Dave McKenna, Glenn Morey, and Mike Lane voted against the resolution.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.