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Hempstead town board meeting ends in shouting from dais

A Hempstead Town Board meeting Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, on the proposed 2018 budget included shouting from the dais, two news conferences and a walkout by four town board members who left while their colleagues were still speaking. (Credit: Newsday / Stefanie Dazio)

A Hempstead Town Board meeting Tuesday on the proposed 2018 budget included shouting from the dais, two news conferences and a walkout by four town board members who left while their colleagues were still speaking.

Town Supervisor Anthony Santino, Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby and Councilmen Dennis Dunne Sr. and Anthony D’Esposito voted Tuesday afternoon to adjourn the first of two hearings and left as Councilman Bruce Blakeman was trying to ask questions about the budget.

The $418.6 million budget passed on a 5-2 vote, with Blakeman and Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney opposed.

At the 2:30 p.m. portion of the meeting, Santino had overruled a request from Blakeman, who wanted to ask Town Comptroller Kevin Conroy about the budget before members of the public spoke.

The town clerk began to call the roll to adjourn the afternoon meeting, despite Blakeman’s request to be heard. The four members of the town board, all of whom are up for election in November, left despite shouts from Blakeman and King Sweeney.

The duo later held a news conference outside Town Hall right before the 7 p.m. portion of the meeting to decry the walkout and what they called Santino’s attempts to keep them from speaking.

“He silenced voters, he silenced the public and he tried to silence Bruce and me,” King Sweeney said at the news conference.

Santino declined to comment Tuesday night. “He left the meeting this afternoon because it was adjourned,” town spokesman Mike Deery said.

Blakeman and King Sweeney have been feuding with Santino for months over ethics reform legislation.

The 7 p.m. session began with emotions running high.

“I will stand up and you’ll have to get public safety to force me out of here,” King Sweeney said from the dais.

The crowd chanted “let her speak!”

The town board members were allowed to question Conroy during the night portion of the meeting after members of the public spoke.

Blakeman asked about a $3 million allowance for postage, how budgets for each council district are set and how much the town spends on outside counsel. King Sweeney asked about the human resources budget and recent credit ratings.

Residents asked about specific line items in the budget, with the town’s animal shelter drawing interest. The proposed budget includes a 1.9 percent property tax hike — about $20 per homeowner.

At the end of the night session, the town board was scheduled to hold a public hearing on mass mailings legislation that would restrict councilmembers from sending out mailers ahead of the election.

But D’Esposito made a motion to “lay it on the table,” which means the hearing would be adjourned until further notice without public comment.

The town board voted 5-2 in favor of D’Esposito’s motion despite the loud objections from the audience.

Blakeman and King Sweeney, who sponsored the legislation, again voted against the rest. The vote was not on the merits of the legislation but on tabling it.

“Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse,” King Sweeney said.

Deery said in an interview after the vote that it was adjourned because the town attorney didn’t receive the legislation early enough to give “proper public notice.”

The public hearing was scheduled for Tuesday during the Oct. 3 town board meeting.

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