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Trustees sue mayor over edited video of meetings

An undated file photo of Freeport Mayor Andrew

An undated file photo of Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick. Credit: John Dunn

A reel battle has broken out in Freeport, where Mayor Andrew Hardwick and the village's trustees are going to the videotape over selective editing.

Trustees -- as well as some village residents -- say Hardwick is ordering video recordings of village board meetings to be edited to remove criticism and portray himself in a better light. The trustees have filed a lawsuit over the matter.

All four trustees suing include members of his own party.

Hardwick denied the charge, dismissing it as "foolishness." He said the tapes, which air on the village's local public access television station, have been edited only for length.

The trustees have tried since February to introduce a resolution that would ban editing and require the village to air the tapes "in their entirety without prejudice," records state.

Hardwick has refused to bring the resolution up for a vote at several public meetings.

The trustees sued Hardwick in State Supreme Court in May in an attempt to force the resolution onto the agenda.

Hardwick does not have the authority to kill the resolution, according to New York State Committee on Open Government executive director Robert Freeman.

Hardwick said Thursday that he will allow the resolution to be heard at Monday's board meeting. But he admitted the ordeal has driven a wedge between him and the trustees, including Carmen Pinyero and Robert T. Kennedy, who were elected with Hardwick in 2009 on the Change Freeport party line.

"They had a change of heart," Hardwick said. "And that's fine, they can stay with the other side."

The trustees said the mayor's refusal to hear the resolution was symptomatic of what they call his autocratic style, and that they had no choice but to file the lawsuit.

"It's a sad day for the residents of Freeport when the board of trustees has to resort to taking action against its own mayor," said trustee William White, who along with trustee Jorge Martinez is a member of the Home Rule party. "But we have no choice. We need to do our job."

Justice F. Dana Winslow heard arguments in the case on Thursday. Although he has yet to issue a final ruling, Winslow told both sides that state law gives the trustees the ability to bring a resolution up for a vote and ordered Hardwick to let it go forward. The case is due back in court June 21.

Several residents allege that the company that produces the tapes, Real Tyme Media of Freeport, edits the tapes to reflect positively on Hardwick. Pinyero said her comments during public meetings are often "completely taken out," for which she blames Hardwick.

A representative for Real Tyme Media declined to comment. The village pays the firm $60,000 per year to produce the tapes, Pinyero said.

The trustees' resolution to prevent any editing, other than for offensive language, would solve the problem, said resident Kelley Martinez, a regular meeting attendee and Hardwick critic.

"If he makes a mistake or a faux pas, it doesn't end up on TV," Martinez said.

But Hardwick, and some other residents, say the trustees' resolution is wrongheaded. Hardwick criticized a clause that would require the public comment portion of meetings be shown on the village's website, but not on television.

The mayor said he considers that "censorship," and plans to vote against the resolution Monday.

"It's outright taking the public's freedom of speech away," he said. "I can't allow that."

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