We'd loudly boo the recent decision by the Riverhead Town Board to ban booing at its meetings, but we're afraid of the consequences, which Supervisor Sean Walter laughingly described as "a stern look from me." Thoroughly cowed at the prospect, we will simply disagree with the move, politely.
The booing was banned in a new four-page code of behavior that sets out the rules for how town board meetings will be conducted in general. Walter said codifying procedures for proposing, seconding, discussing, tabling and voting on motions was the real point of the process, and rules on public behavior came as an afterthought. Signs in the audience are also banned, but a rule against applause was amended out of the measure.
The desire of the board to conduct civil meetings in an increasingly impolite age is understandable, but democracy is not always a polite, low-energy affair. Nor should it be. The ban on booing seems a bit too specific (particularly considering profanity has not been outlawed) and raises questions: Is loud "harumphing" OK? What about primal screams of anguish at particularly boneheaded proposals?
Truly disorderly conduct and abusive behavior shouldn't be tolerated in these meetings. For anything not rising to that level, though, we applaud citizens who attend a town board meeting, and boo anyone who tries to restrict their spontaneous expressions of aggravation.