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Oyster Bay town critic removed from board meeting by police

Robert Ripp, second from right, speaks to Nassau

Robert Ripp, second from right, speaks to Nassau County police officers outside Oyster Bay Town Hall after Town Supervisor John Venditto had police eject him for handing out fliers before a town board meeting Tuesday morning, May 10, 2016. Credit: Newsday / Ted Phillips

Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto had police eject a critic from town hall for handing out fliers before a town board meeting began Tuesday morning.

Massapequa resident Robert Ripp had placed the paper critical of a board member on chairs in town hall and handed them out to attendees. He had been sitting, waiting for the meeting to start when two Nassau County police officers arrived and escorted him out shortly before 11 a.m.

“I have a civil right, a First Amendment right to hand it out,” Ripp said to police outside Town Hall.

Town Attorney Leonard Genova told meeting attendees that board members decided that Ripp’s fliers were “clearly violative of the decorum policy.” Genova cited a section of the meeting rules addressing slanderous remarks.

Before the police arrived, the town’s livestreaming camera was removed. A town spokesman said it was due to an unrelated technical problem.

Ripp, who regularly speaks at town board meetings, has become the administration’s sharpest critic. A town contractor said Tuesday that research he conducted for the town looking into Ripp’s Facebook page earlier this year had cost taxpayers $7,000.

Ripp had placed his fliers on chairs in the Town Hall hearing room. Town officials told Ripp he could not distribute his material and after voicing his disagreement he stopped and sat down.

Genova said Ripp continued to give the document to every member of the audience after being told to stop, and the police were called. No town board members were in the room at the time.

After escorting Ripp from the building, police told him he could distribute his material outside Town Hall, but not inside.

Oyster Bay Public Safety Commissioner Justin McCaffrey told Ripp he could not return to the meeting.

“The Supervisor will not conduct the meeting if you’re present inside because of this issue,” McCaffrey said.

Ripp then left and the board meeting started shortly after 11 a.m.

Venditto said after the board meeting that Ripp had been welcome to attend the meeting.

“Whether or not he stayed or went was up to the police,” Venditto said.

Genova, after the meeting, said Venditto made the decision about the fliers, not the town board as he had said at the meeting.

Resident Bob Freier, who ran for town board last year as a Democrat, said he was “disgusted” by the action.

“They violated his First Amendment rights,” Freier said of Ripp, a frequent critic of town operations. “It’s a public meeting and he should have the right to hand out his information.”

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