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Niagara Falls lawmaker's bid to ban texting fails at meeting

A Niagara Falls councilman's bid to ban the use of cell phones by city lawmakers at public meetings failed to win any support among his colleagues.

Councilman Kenny Tompkins sponsored a measure introduced at Monday night's City Council meeting that called for council members to "refrain from bringing with them activated personal electronic devices of any nature, including cell phones, to any public meetings of this City Council."

"It was defeated, 4 to 1. I knew it would go down," Tompkins told The Buffalo News, after the meeting.

While Tompkins' proposal didn't single out any city lawmaker as an offender, it was clear to at least one council member who Tompkins had in mind.

Councilwoman Kristen M. Grandinetti  earlier expressed that she believed she was the impetus for the resolution, which Tompkins did not deny after the meeting.

"I hated to bring it forward because I felt that we're all adults and that we should be held to a high standard. I  mean, I know Ms. Grandinetti. I've known her for 30 years and I know she's a respectable person, but this is not respect. I don't think she understands that," said Tompkins late Monday.

Grandinetti admits she uses multiple devices during meetings, including her cell phone, to keep track of time allocated to public speakers. She also takes notes on her laptop and communicates with department heads about issues, she said.

"I am a woman. I can multi-task," she said in a text message on Monday morning.

Grandinetti said she believed it may have been an attempt by Tompkins to make her look like she's not interested or committed to her job.

After the meeting on Monday, Grandinetti said the issue had political overtones.

"I'm sorry to say, but it was personal. I'm running for re-election and there was a large contingent in the room tonight that was obviously trying to put some negative connotations on me, as a person, questioning whether I was qualified or not to do my job," she said, after the meeting and vote.

"In instances like that, it's just best to take the high road and move forward. It's over now, for the time being, and we've just got to get on with the business of the city, which is what's the most important," said Grandinetti.

Tompkins insisted that lawmakers owed it to the public that elected them to give their undivided attention for the couple of hours spent at each of the Council's bi-monthly meetings.

"If some people choose not to have the respect for the people that put us in office, so be it. That's their world. The way my parents raised me is you show respect," Tompkins said, after Monday's vote.

The Niagara Falls City Council, like most public bodies, allows the public to address issues during a designated part of its meetings. In Niagara Falls, each individual is limited to 5 minutes during the public comment period, but there are two parts of the meeting in which a member of the public may speak.

Tompkins pointed to a potential ramification of in-meeting cell phone use: whatever messages are being sent and received may be part of the public record of the meeting, meaning they would have to be disclosed by the city should anyone request them.

Tompkins said he has "no idea" whom Grandinetti is texting with during meetings.

He said he had hoped the Council could have handled the matter in-house, adding that he's previously asked former Council Chairman Andrew P. Touma and current Chairman Charles A. Walker to address the issue. But the problem persists, he said.

"This is petty," he said. "This is stupid to have to do it."

Tompkins said he may re-introduce his measure sometime in the future.

"It's out and it's in the public. I will push it again with my chairperson," he said.

If the protocol had been adopted and violated, Tompkins said he believes the meeting could be stopped by the chairperson.

"If there's no rule, then let's make a rule," he said.

Resolution on digital devices by AaronBesecker on Scribd


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