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Oyster Bay town board limits time for speakers at meetings

Frequent Town of Oyster Bay critic Robert Ripp,

Frequent Town of Oyster Bay critic Robert Ripp, 53, at his home in Massapequa, Feb. 18, 2015. Photo Credit: Daniel Brennan

The Oyster Bay Town Board on Tuesday began limiting the length of time residents can address the board.

The board adopted the new meeting procedure rules without public notice or comment as a resolution that was announced minutes before voting on it.

Over the past year Supervisor John Venditto has raised the issue of imposing time limits on speakers in response to lengthy public comments and questions about his administration raised by Massapequa resident Robert Ripp, a frequent critic.

Residents wishing to address the board are now limited to three minutes to speak on one resolution and up to 10 minutes to speak on three or more resolutions. Speakers at public hearings and during the public comment section are limited to five minutes.

Councilman Anthony Macagnone, who introduced the resolution, said it was necessary because people weren’t getting opportunities to address the board.

“A lot of people were walking out of meetings because they didn’t have the chance to speak,” Macagnone said, adding that the new limits gave people ample time to make their points. “It’s about giving everybody a chance to voice their concerns, everybody a chance to be involved in government,” he said.

Oyster Bay joins other municipalities that have adopted time limits for speakers, including Smithtown, Asharoken and Glen Cove.

Public reaction was mixed about the Oyster Bay rules, but critical of how it was introduced without prior notice.

“They don’t want to talk about anything anymore,” Ripp said in an interview. He said he regularly addresses the board because he’s exhausted other avenues of talking to the government about spending and governance, and because of the difficulty he has had getting information from the town.

Laura Shultz, president of the Residents for a More Beautiful Syosset civic group, said the board’s move was “very surprising.” Shultz, who addresses the board occasionally, said that while some regulations may have been necessary, “it seems that it was overcorrected.”

Paul Molinari, 66, a retired environmental engineer from Hicksville, said the new rules were needed.

“They have to manage the meeting so it’s more productive and more people have an opportunity to speak,” Molinari said.

The new rules also end the practice of residents submitting letters, petitions or documents to the board. They must now be requested by the board or authorized by the presiding officer and then given to the Town Clerk. The rules permit a meeting’s presiding officer to order photographers or people making video or audio recording to stop if the activity interferes with the meeting.

The new policy asserts that what goes on in executive session “must remain confidential” unless four board members vote to release information. That rule goes beyond state open meetings law. In a 2007 advisory opinion on executive sessions, Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, wrote that “information expressed during an executive session is not ‘confidential.’”

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