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Oyster Bay Town sued by resident opposing alleged ban on signs at meetings

Syosset resident Kevin McKenna's federal lawsuit says any ban on signs is unconstitutional. Town officials say no ban exists.

Protest signs line the entrance of Oyster Bay

Protest signs line the entrance of Oyster Bay Town Hall in late June after police told residents they couldn't take the placards into the meeting.  Photo Credit: Newsday / Ted Phillips

A Syosset man has filed a federal lawsuit against the Town of Oyster Bay, challenging what he says is a ban on signs being taken into town board meetings.

Town officials said no such ban exists.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Central Islip, stems from a June 26 town board meeting when a Nassau County police officer told residents opposing the proposed Syosset Park development that they could not take signs into the board meeting room. The lawsuit also names the Nassau police department as a defendant.

“Defendants have an unconstitutional practice, custom, or policy of misusing its unwritten sign ban to curtail the free speech of political activists,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed by Kevin McKenna and the group he founded, Save Our Syosset, which opposes Syosset Park. 

McKenna is seeking a court ruling that the alleged ban is unconstitutional and barring its enforcement. Judge Denis R. Hurley Wednesday denied his request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, lawyers for McKenna and the town said.

Town attorney Joseph Nocella said Wednesday, “The town does not have any policy banning or restricting signs.”

Nassau police spokeswoman Det. Maureen Roach said the department does not comment on active litigation.

McKenna, a frequent critic of town Supervisor Joseph Saladino, said that at Town Hall East on June 26 he heard either town spokesman Brian Nevin or public-safety Commissioner Justin McCaffrey instruct an officer to bar signs.

Town spokeswoman Marta Kane on Wednesday said the allegation was “false."

McKenna’s Farmingdale attorney, Jonathan Clarke, initially also planned to challenge the town’s July 5 ban on McKenna attending board meetings the rest of the year because of an allegedly lewd hand motion he made at the June 26 meeting. 

Clarke said the lawsuit did not include that incident because Nocella on Tuesday wrote in a letter to Clarke that “the Town will not enforce the ban.”

“They knew it was unconstitutional so they decided that rather than give this publicity, we’ll cut it off,” said Clarke, who ran unsuccessfully for town supervisor last year.

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