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Oyster Bay councilman seeks review of public safety at town board hearings

Shortly before a Jan. 29 hearing begins on a proposed hotel in Jericho, the Oyster Bay deputy commissioner for economic development tells attendees the meeting is being recorded on video and that their actions will be reviewed. Earlier confrontations between supporters and opponents prompted the town to review its meeting procedures. (Credit: Newsday / Ted Phillips)

Oyster Bay Town Councilman Anthony Macagnone called for a review of procedures at town board hearings after a video showed a confrontation at a public hearing on a proposed hotel in Jericho.

“There should be public safety present when the public is in the meeting room,” Macagnone said in a text message to Newsday.

The video, a portion of which was posted on social media, was taken by a Jericho resident at a Jan. 29 hearing at Town Hall. It shows a man yelling “get this [expletive] out of here” and tossing two backpacks from third-row seats over the seats in front of him onto the floor in front of the dais. The man, who has not been identified, sits down and holds up a poster in support of the hotel. The video then shows a woman going to the man and grabbing his poster.

Town Clerk James Altadonna Jr. is shown in the video walking to the front of the seating and raising his hands in front of the two parties. Altadonna said he didn't see the bags being thrown from seats. The video shows public safety officers followed behind Altadonna, but he said they were not in the room when he entered.

“I heard a loud noise,” Altadonna said. “I went over and there was a lot of finger pointing and I tried to separate the groups.”

The confrontation started almost an hour before the 7 p.m. meeting after several residents came to Town Hall and tried to save seats for others, those who showed up early said. Construction union representatives said they arrived early with union members. Hotel supporters and opponents each said they believed the other side wanted to take all the seats.

New Hyde Park-based Kimco Realty is seeking a special use permit to build a three-floor Marriott Residence Inn at the Jericho Commons shopping center. Speakers at the hearing included dozens of area residents who opposed the hotel, and union leaders and business group representatives supporting it. 

Town Public Safety Commissioner Justin McCaffrey said in an email statement Wednesday that  town officials anticipated a large group and had assigned four officers to the meeting as well as four Nassau County police officers.

"The disorderly conduct that occurred at approximately 6 pm, one-hour prior to the start of the scheduled meeting, took place prior to the arrival of these additional officers, McCaffrey wrote. "Accordingly, I have put in place the necessary procedures to ensure that the appropriate personnel will be in place well before the start of all future meetings.”

Justin Cheng, 43, a laundromat owner from Jericho, said his bag was one of those shown in the video being thrown to the floor.

“I was shocked,” Cheng said.

The bag was placed on the seat to save it for a neighbor, Cheng said, adding he didn’t retrieve the bag until after the meeting because he was afraid to lose his seat if he got up.

Art Gipson, business agent of the United Association of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders & Service Techs Local 200 union, spoke at the hearing. He told Newsday the union objected to people reserving seats.

"There was no saving seats,” Gipson said. 

Town Hall has about 300 seats. More than 350 people crowded the meeting room and spilled out the door for the hotel hearing. The town has held hearings at larger venues to accommodate big crowds. The town has no written rules about saving seats at hearings, town spokesman Brian Nevin said in an email, adding that the board voted unanimously to hold the hearing at Town Hall.

“Knowing the nature of the subject matter, we should have had a larger venue where people would not be on top of each other,” Altadonna said.


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