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FEB 03 - FEB 10, 2015

Touma's Limiting Speakers Shows Skewed Priorities

By Anna M. Howard

February 03, 2015

If newly elected Council Chairman Andrew Touma’s obsession with limiting the speaker time at council meetings is any indication of where his legislative head is at, it’s going to be a long and tedious 2015.

As evidence of Mr. Touma’s “top of mind,” his resolution was both curious in its nature and frightening in its implication, the restraint of free speech.

First he wanted to limit speakers’ time to address the council from five minutes to three minutes. Then he changed it from three minutes to four minutes.

The facts are that Niagara Falls is in a bad way: financially, developmentally and socially. Due to those facts it’s an “all hands on deck” situation with the more ideas, the more voices, and the more sincere opinions the better for all.

We are troubled by the fact that as a first effort at lawmaking the new chairman of the City Council of Niagara Falls, Touma essentially said, “the first thing I need to do is keep people from talking too much at our meetings.”

This is not a good sign since it shows intent to limit talk, control the conversation, and fight transparency by intimidating (intentionally or not) well-intended residents from sharing thoughts and asking questions.

Are there faults with public speakers at public meetings? Of course. But this is America and open government is not without the occasional messy situation.

It does appear the chairman and his council majority have lost track of what the city’s problems are. That’s okay because the Reporter is here to remind the chairman and his majority what needs attention:

The city’s finances are in a shambles and no one understands the deficit, how it got there and how to repair it. The city continues to refuse to follow the state audit guidelines as delivered in June 2013.

The trash plan is garbage. It was rolled out nine months ago and it’s more confused today than it was when first rolled out. Just a few of the problems are the shape-shifting guidelines for trash pickup and recycling. The business community was overlooked and now the residents aren’t feeling the love as they wait for trash inspectors to cite them for violations of rules that are never written the same way twice.

Casino cash is dwindling and yet there is still no adopted plan as the revenue is tossed out the proverbial city hall window. Happily the council voted against handing $820,000 of it to the mayor’s NFC loan and grant program at Monday’s council meeting.

With a courthouse bearing an annual $2.4 million mortgage payment, we will soon have a $45 million train station coming on line with no allowance in the budget for operation and maintenance.

How did that happen?

Crime continues to haunt the streets and the average household income is the lowest in western New York.

Let’s not forget the condition of the streets, trees and parks and didn’t we just have our taxes raised?

Well, forget all of that because the one big, burning issue at city hall this year is the need to limit speaker time at council meetings.

Touma went from a plan to allow speakers to talk for five minutes to three minutes and then four minutes.

Now that this didn't pass, maybe Touma can make it four and half minutes before he gavels down the free speech of the people.





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Phone: (716) 284-5595

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