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Oyster Bay bans resident from town board meetings after making hand gesture

One board member said she saw the gesture as "lewd" and a form of sexual harassment. The resident denied that it was directed at the board or any single member.

Syosset resident Kevin McKenna is seen March 22.

Syosset resident Kevin McKenna is seen March 22. Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

The Town of Oyster Bay has banned a frequent critic of Supervisor Joseph Saladino from attending town board meetings for the rest of the year because of an allegedly lewd gesture he made at the June 26 meeting.

Town Attorney Joseph Nocella on Thursday sent a letter to Syosset resident Kevin McKenna stating that the town “cannot, and will not, allow you to disrupt Town business, nor permit you to make inappropriate gestures directed at, or in the presence of, the Town board, Town officials and residents of the Town.”

Nocella also chastised McKenna for shouting as he was leaving the meeting.

As board members rose to move to executive session at the June 26 meeting, McKenna, who was sitting near the front of the audience, made a motion with his hand that Councilwoman Michele Johnson said she thought was lewd.

“Excuse me, that’s disgusting,” Johnson said.

Johnson said later she "was terribly offended and disgusted."

"To me this is sexual harassment," she said. "It’s an action that causes hostility in the workplace. I shouldn’t have to come to work and be subjected to a member of the general public making lewd hand gestures at me or the board.”

She said the ban on McKenna is justified.

Johnson said at Tuesday’s board meeting that McKenna’s action violated the town board’s rules of decorum.

“If our rules of decorum are not strong enough to enforce the ban, and if Mr. McKenna is unwilling to voluntarily adhere to the ban, I’d ask that our rules be strengthened to protect everyone from such harassment,” she said.

Johnson said McKenna’s gaze was toward the dais, but not focused on any particular board member, when he made the hand motion.

McKenna said in an interview that he had been talking to his girlfriend, who was sitting next to him, when he made the motion, which he said represented his frustration that board members were leaving to confer privately.

“... It was not directed to anyone up there, because I thought they were all gone,” McKenna said, adding that he “would never, ever” make a lewd gesture toward any member of the board.

McKenna said the ban is an attempt by Saladino to stop him from publicly criticizing the supervisor. 

Town spokesman Brian Nevin said Nocella made the decision to bar McKenna, not Saladino.

McKenna “made an extremely vulgar and inappropriate gesture that degrades women, and is offensive to all,” Saladino said in an interview after Tuesday’s meeting.

Councilman Anthony Macagnone said he didn’t see the gesture, but even if it was obscene, McKenna shouldn’t be banned from future meetings.

“I think banning someone should be only if someone feels threatened,” Macagnone said, adding that “Kevin is not always correct, but he’s passionate about what he says. Sometimes his passion goes a bit too far.”

Islandia tried last year to ban a resident from its meetings.

Olaf Olk on June 25 sued the village in Suffolk County District Court to recover $1,810 he spent defending himself after the Islandia village board voted in January 2017 to bar him from Village Hall and public meetings.

State Supreme Court Judge Arthur Pitts in Suffolk County annulled the resolution in March 2017 after Olk filed for a temporary restraining order against the measure, according to court documents.

Olk said Mayor Allan Dorman “took away my First Amendment right.”

On Tuesday, Islandia village spokesman John Zaher called Olk's lawsuit "baseless."

"Mr. Olk made threatening statements and had to be restrained from assaulting the Village Mayor and Board Members,” Zaher said in an email. “No one has the right to threaten violence.”

Olk has denied he threatened or tried to assault anyone.

With Ted Phillips and Rachelle Blidner

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