ITHACA, N.Y. — Should Tompkins County Legislature require members of the public to give their names before speaking? Some say doing so puts members of the community at risk and are asking Legislature to change the rules.
If you’ve ever spoken at Tompkins County Legislature, you know the blue cards. Before members of the public can speak during public privilege of the floor, speakers are asked to fill out a blue card that outlines the rules for speaking, including a three-minute time limit, and asks that speakers write their names and municipality. The cards are collected by the clerk.
Recently, several people in the community have voiced concerns about being required to share their name to speak, saying doing so in some cases could impact people’s jobs or put them at risk in other ways.
Deborah Dawson, who is running for Tompkins County Legislature, told legislators Thursday that members of the LGBTQ community brought the issue to her attention.
“They impressed upon me the dilemma of people who risk losing their jobs, their freedom or even their physical safety if they must give their names on the public record, to express an opinion that may be unpopular with their employers, law enforcement agencies or members of the public,” Dawson said.
Dawson was one of four people to speak about the issue during public privilege of the floor Thursday.
Several people also brought this concern to the attention of the Government Operations Committee this week.
Ithaca resident Susan Multer said people could be at risk for being targeted if they put their names on the blue cards. As a solution, Multer said the blue cards could ask people to put their name or a pseudonym or three numbers so the chair of the Legislature has something to call them by. The rest of the information, asking for whether a person lives or works in Tompkins County, could stay.
“These questions give you the information you need without putting people at risk,” Multer said.
A couple legislators said they were open to discussing change and taking a look at the issue.
Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne said she hopes the county will continue to work toward a safer and more inclusive environment for people to participate in government, though she said she believes some rules do need to be in place for addressing Tompkins County Legislature, like keeping to three minutes.
However, some legislators say there are other avenues for members of the public to share opinions and bring up sensitive issues.
Legislator Dan Klein, who chairs the Government Operations Committee, said while he can understand why it could be a risk for people to share certain information, he said “this is not the venue to share all information.” He said there are other ways to make those complaints if safety is a concern. People can approach legislators privately or anonymously, send emails, letters or call.
“I don’t think people should have an expectation of anonymity at a public meeting,” Klein said.
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