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Oyster Bay board delays vote to amend code on political signs

The Oyster Bay Town Board has delayed a vote to amend its zoning code to settle a federal lawsuit over political signs.

Last week the town board tabled a vote on the amendment after a hearing in which Supervisor John Venditto questioned some of its provisions. In May 2015, the town’s outside legal counsel signed a stipulation to settle the suit brought in 2013 by former town board candidate Christopher Briggs.

Venditto questioned the length of time that temporary signs — political or nonpolitical — could be displayed. The amendment wouldn’t change the length of time permitted to display political signage, which is set under the existing town code at 135 days, with 120 of them being before an election.

“One hundred twenty days before an election?” Venditto said at the meeting. “It’s a little long. . . . We can massage this, right? If we choose to?”

Matthew Rozea, an assistant town attorney, replied, “I believe there may be some latitude.”

“The purpose of this amendment would be to treat political signs and nonpolitical signs equally,” Rozea said.

Briggs alleged in his suit that town employees had removed his political signs on town time while using town-owned vehicles and erected signs of his political opponents.

Briggs’ attorney, Andrew Campanelli of Merrick, said he was “a little surprised” by the board’s move and that it sounded as if Venditto “was unfamiliar with the code.”

“If it’s not amended, then we would be constrained to resume prosecution of the federal litigation,” Campanelli said.

Last year the town’s outside legal counsel, Jonathan Sinnreich of Central Islip, told Newsday that it was a “reasonable settlement” that included a $5,000 payment to Briggs’ attorney for legal fees; a requirement for town employees to be told they could not engage in political activity on town time; and a requirement for Briggs to turn over or destroy photographs or videos of town employees putting up political posters.

Sinnreich signed the stipulation of settlement, which included the amendment language being considered by the town board and an agreement to advertise a public hearing on the amendment.

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