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JAN 20 - JAN 28, 2015

Council Resolution Limiting Public Speech Attacks First Amendment

By Anna M. Howard

January 20, 2015

All is not lost if Chairman Touma’s “Hurry-up-and-talk-already” resolution is passed. City residents with a lot to say could hire John Moschitta, Jr., also known as "Motormouth", to deliver their message.
Moschitta is known for his rapid speech delivery. He appeared in over 100 commercials as "The Micro Machines Man" and was credited in The Guinness Book of World Records as the World's Fastest Talker, with the ability to articulate 586 words per minute. He could spit out almost 1800 words - if hired to present at City Hall - with its new three minute rule.
If you need a woman’s touch or rather voice, “motor mouth’ Fran Capo can churn out over 600 words a minute, or 11 words per second!
At such high speeds, you might not always be able to understand what she’s saying, but at City Hall would that matter? She told the story of The Three Little Pigs in 15 seconds flat. How quick she could tell the story of the three little (Dyster majority) council members is anybody’s guess.
"Professor" Irwin Corey (born July 29, 1914) now 100 years old, was billed as "The World's Foremost Authority". However, like some speakers at City Hall, much of what Corey said was unintelligible. The only difference is Corey did it deliberately.
Shaddap You Face: Gerald Skrlin, renowned artist, often speaks in his artist’s voice, about what is wrong at city hall. Is it because of him that this new resolution was crafted?
Norm Crosby, like many speakers at city hall, is known for using malapropisms - wrong words that sound similar to what would be the right word. After Crosby spoke he would often get standing ovulations.
Hurry up Jack: The overall speaking rate in JFK's inaugural address was 96.5 words per minute. If Kennedy got up to speak at the Niagara Falls City Council, his speech, in order to fit into the three minute rule, would have to be less than 300 words.
A typical newspaper article that gets to basic points is usually 500 words. A typical op-ed by noted columnists are 750 words. News briefs range from 100- 300 words.
Kennedy would only be able to deliver a news brief at Niagara Falls City Hall.

Are the public speakers at the biweekly council meetings talking too long or saying inappropriate things? Apparently the new city council chairman, Andrew Touma, believes that may be the case.
The second-year councilman and rookie chairman has written a resolution for consideration of passage at the Tuesday January 20 council meeting titled, “Relative to City Council Procedures, Public Speakers Time Limit.”
The resolution is agenda item 18 and that means it will appear at the near end of the 19-item meeting. How many people will still be in attendance at the end of the evening? Not too many.
At the time the agenda was posted Mr. Touma was the sole councilmember supporting the resolution. How its passage will fare on January 20 remains to be seen.
Several weeks ago Mr. Touma and his council compatriot Charles Walker wrote a Gazette guest view that contained a rousing call for residents and elected officials to work together for the good of the city.
How can resident-voters begin to offer suggestions and voice their concerns when their allotted time to address the council is reduced from the current modest five minutes to the three minutes of the chairman’s resolution?
The message to the residents who take the time to attend the council meetings is loud and clear with this Public Speakers Time Limit resolution: you can address the council as long as you speak fast and go away.
If a resident takes time out of their day (council meetings are 6pm every other Monday as a rule) to address the council regarding the trash and recycling program, rats in LaSalle, casino cash expenditures, budget deficit, crime, frozen water pipes or any one of a number of similar issues, they have to say their piece in three minutes and get off the stage.
A review of council meetings demonstrates that there are routinely three to six speakers. At the current five minutes per speaker allowance that is a maximum of 30 minutes total for six speakers. At the new proposed limit of three minutes per speaker that is a total of 18 minutes for 6 speakers.
The council will save about 12 minutes at each meeting by curtailing public input and limiting the residents right to free speech.
But the time limit may not be the most disturbing part of this resolution. The resolution also reads: “All remarks shall be addressed to the Council as a body and not to any member thereof. Speakers shall observe the commonly accepted rules of courtesy, decorum, dignity and good taste and should refrain from making comments regarding individuals, including elected officials and City employees, unless such comments pertain to such individual’s duties within City government. Although they may, nothing shall require the Mayor or the Council to answer questions or engage in debate at any City Council meeting.”
Council meeting “speakers” not only are required to tell their story fast, they are warned as to what they're allowed to say and how to say it.
What awaits the person violating these rules? Arrest? Imagine the public embarrassment for city government when a speaker is led away or charged for violating the new speaker time limit edict?
At a time when voter participation is shockingly low, at a time when few people attend the council meetings, and far fewer attempt to speak at the meetings, this resolution virtually puts the freeze on anyone even considering voicing a well-thought-out critical assessment of city government.
So what is behind this Public Speakers Time Limit resolution?
We are told the reason for the resolution is that Gerald Skrlin, a local resident and renowned political cartoonist, has been speaking on a regular basis at the meetings, which is his right.
We are told there are people in the Dyster administration that want Skrlin toned down if not silenced. Because of this we are calling the new resolution the “Shut Skrlin Up Resolution.”
We call on the council chairman to not only withdraw his resolution - not “table” for another day so it can sneak through while everyone is distracted - but to toss it in the trash where it belongs.
As the incoming chairman who campaigned on citizen involvement, as a public school teacher influencing young minds in a democratic society, and in the interest of good government and free speech, the chairman should explain what is behind his move to reduce speaker participation at council meetings.
The city is troubled fiscally, socially, economically, and it’s times such as these that call for open arms and an open microphone embracing all public input in a sincere effort to improve the community.







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