ITHACA, N.Y. — People speaking in front of the Tompkins County Legislature will no longer have to provide their full name or municipality before publicly addressing the assembly
The now-defunct blue cards were required to be filled out by anyone wanting to speak for the three-minute time frame allocated at the beginning of legislature meeting for public comment. The cards also outlined the rules for speaking, such as requiring one’s full name and municipality to be stated.
But members of the community recently made it clear that sharing a first and last name, along with one’s municipality, opens the door for people to be harassed or targeted by people who disagree with them.
Among the first people to recently object to the requirements was Joanne Cipolla-Dennis, who refused to comply with all the rules on the card this summer and vehemently spoke against out against the blue cards. A police officer was called to remove her from legislative chambers.
Not all legislators agreed, however, that people had the reasonable expectation of privacy while speaking at the public meeting, which is also broadcast live on television and online.
Jim Dennis, Peter Stein, and Will Burbank were the three people who voted against the changes to the speaking cards.
Dennis said he remembers being a member of the Ithaca Common Council when members of the public just raised a hand to be recognize during public comment periods. But then, a man who was upset at the goings on spoke and ended up throwing a shoe at the mayor.
“This was many years ago,” he said.
The incident prompted a new set of public speaking rules in the city, which are mirrored in some ways at the county legislature.
“It made sense to me then, and it makes sense to me now,” Dennis said. “It’s just stunning to me to think that someone believes that they can remain anonymous in a medium that’s televised.”
Stein agreed, adding that he’s use people’s first and last name to reach out to them after meetings to talk to them about their concerns.
District No.2 Legislator Anna Kelles said the entire point of changing the cards is to create a safer, more inclusive space for people to talk to their legislatures.
“If there are people who don’t feel safe – and the people who don’t feel safe are more likely to be the marginalized people in our community – then we are actually creating a bias in the people we hear from,” she said.
District No. 3 Legislature Carol Chock said during the meeting that she doesn’t think the legislature should have any public speaking cards required at all, though she said that since there are cards, she would want to know if the speaker is a Tompkins County resident.
An amendment was eventually passed supporting the residential county be added to the card as a requirement.
Kelles said, “The impact on us and our activities is not greatly impacted by this. But the impact on the community, for those people – even if it’s just 10 people in the community – that could feel more safe, it simply means that we’re being more welcoming. And what’s the harm in being more welcoming?”
The changes were approved in an 11-3 vote.