April 26, 2005

Governance Committee Clashes Over Noise Arrests

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The Common Council’s governance committee failed to pass a resolution last night urging the mayor to “reinforce the language and intent” behind Ithaca’s noise ordinance law. Committee member Michael Taylor ’05 (D-4th Ward) introduced the resolution in response to the arrest at least nine Cornell students this weekend for noise ordinance violations. Three students spoke at the meeting, including two who were arrested, but the police department could not attend the meeting. Many council members were concerned that passing any resolution without the police’s input would be too rash a decision.

“Clearly, [this resolution] points to something being wrong,” said Council Member Maria Coles (D-1st Ward), who does not serve on the committee. “Or else, why would this committee ask the mayor to act?” The committee will reconvene for a special meeting to vote on the resolution next Monday.

Earlier in the meeting, Casey Fishman ’05 and Alan Chan ’06 spoke about their concerns in front of the committee. Fishman said that police had broken up a party she and her roommates had hosted and asked everyone to leave. Although they complied, Fishman said, the police then arrested all of the house’s eight residents, except two who were asleep, and brought them down to the station.

Chan said he was struck by the similarity between Fishman’s case and his own. He said that his house threw a party following a Chinese Student Association culture show, but that 15 to 20 minutes into the party, police showed up to break the party up. Although the hosts asked their guests to leave, Chan said, police arrested them.

“We were very cordial, we cooperated for everything we were asked to do,” Chan said.

He added that he had given his phone number to his neighbors before their party and asked them to call him if they had any concerns about the party, and that he received no calls. All nine students had to pay a $100 bond before being released.

According to Taylor, police officers told Fishman that the arrests were part of a new policy to arrest all violators. Council Member Gayraud Townsend ’05 (D-4th Ward), who is not on the Governance Committee, said later in the meeting that this policy is unfair.

“My whole problem with the situation comes in where you have a district attorney saying we enforce this misdemeanor at this time of the year, but not throughout the year. … Why is it that people aren’t taken down to the police station in colder and less busy or more busy times of the year?”

He mentioned specifically that if suspects do not show up to their court hearings, they will be issued a bench warrant that will show up any time police look up their information, such as when they have been pulled over. But City Attorney Martin Luster said that suspects will not be arrested for an outstanding bench warrant if they are found outside of New York state.

“Quite frankly, given the low level nature of the charge, it’s unlikely that that bench warrant will be used outside of this immediate area anywhere in this state.” Luster added.

Several Governance Committee members said that while they did not oppose the resolution generally, they felt that passing it without the police’s input — especially with regards to their side of Fishman and Chan’s cases — would be premature.

“I feel this is a very serious issue. With that said, I don’t feel comfortable acting with a resolution at this time, and the reason is that we have a body to deal with this,” said Governance Committee member David Whitmore ’96 (D-2nd Ward), referring to the Community Police Board, to which Townsend is the council’s liaison. “This seems like exactly the kind of situation that should go to the Community Police Board, so that at the very least, they can make a recommendation to us.” Governance Committee member Joel Zumoff MS ’70 (D-3rd ward) added that the resolution is not time sensitive.

“All this ordinance is doing is requesting the mayor to discuss the issue to the police department. It’s not issuing new law. So, the mayor is sitting here, she’s heard this discussion. In the sense of making the ordinance be fair and including the discussion with the police department, which isn’t here, we certainly can do that next month. And whether we pass this or not, the mayor has heard the sense of the discussion and she can make up her mind to do what she wishes,” Zumoff said.

Several council members seemed to agree that they should talk to Police Chief Lauren Signer before voting on the resolution.

“You know it is not my style to not have everyone at the table for making a decision about something — any decision, small or large,” said Mayor Carolyn K. Peterson .

She added that she does not know about any policy concerning arrests But committee members did not agree on the forum in which that discussion should take place. The committee’s next regular meeting is not scheduled until next month, which some Council members felt would be bad timing, so Zumoff suggested the issue be brought up at the Common Council meeting on Wed., May 4.

Governance Committee Chair Pamela Mackesey (D-1st Ward) said that she “would feel reluctant to have the police chief come to a common council meeting in such a broad public forum to talk about this.”

“I think that it’s not the place to do it.I think it creates a circus atmosphere around the whole issue,” she said.

The Governance Committee voted 4-1 to adjourn the meeting until a special meeting next Monday, at which Signer could present the police department’s view. Taylor cast the only opposing vote.

Earlier in the meeting, the Governance Committee passed several resolutions to the Ithaca Municipal Code. These included updating the fire code to comply with state law and amending the system by which noise and assembly permits are processed. Noise permits must now be filed at least 72 hours prior to the event.

Archived article by Yuval Shavit
Sun City Editor