Amityville is instituting a new policy that bans political posts on its social media pages and puts restrictions on employees' and volunteers' personal use of social media.
The village board of trustees last month approved a four-page social media policy and is in the process of having all employees and volunteers sign the document to assert they have read and understand it. It’s the first official social media policy for all village employees and volunteer firefighters, said Mayor Dennis Siry.
It supersedes a previous policy that applied only to the village’s fire department.
The village’s new social media policy prohibits “comments or images that advocate for or against political candidates or ballot measures” on village social media. On personal pages, the policy states that individuals shall "never express or imply they are communicating on behalf" of the village.
The policy comes as the village and the fire council face a federal lawsuit filed by volunteer firefighter James Squicciarini, who says the fire council suspended him in 2017 for violating the previous social media policy.
Squicciarini's suit says he was suspended for posting an image on his Facebook page that showed him in uniform holding his infant son, with the message, “We are voting Nick LaLota for mayor.” LaLota, a trustee, lost the election to Siry. Squicciarini, who has been with the department since 1993, was initially given a 30-day suspension ultimately reduced to three days, according to court documents.
Squicciarini, an attorney for the Suffolk County Police Department who is also on Amityville’s planning board, is seeking $500,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. The lawsuit filed by attorney Mirel Fisch of Mineola states that Squicciarini’s suspension was politically motivated and the department’s assertion that he had violated the social media policy, which was “widely disseminated” was “false and defamatory” and caused “irreparable harm” to his reputation and standing within the department.
Attorney Steven Stern of Carle Place has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, noting that Squicciarini violated the department’s standard operating procedures because he did not get consent from the chief’s office to make the post. The filing states Squicciarini was suspended for “creating the false impression the Fire Department endorsed a particular political candidate,” which is a “serious matter with the potential to have caused a substantial disruption in the Village’s operations — tainting an election.”
Neither village officials nor fire department Chief Leland Greey responded to requests for a copy of the department’s previous social media policy. However, the policy was included in documents filed with the lawsuit and does not mention political postings. The village’s new social media policy directly addresses political posts both on village pages and how individuals represent themselves on personal pages.
Siry said the lawsuit was not the impetus to create the new policy and that he had been talking about it with village officials since he was a trustee.
“Hopefully, this will protect us a bit,” he said. “Now we have something in writing that can at least give us a guide.”