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Mastic Beach hires court officer to keep order at village board meetings

Mastic Beach Village Hall is shown in a

Mastic Beach Village Hall is shown in a photo taken on Jan. 8, 2015. Credit: Ed Betz

Mastic Beach residents will be greeted with another unfamiliar face at tonight's trustee meeting and it won't be the three new board members who will take their seats for the first time.

The village has hired a court officer to control behavior at village meetings.

It's the first attempt by newly elected Mayor Maura Spery to bring order to what she describes as "chaotic and rowdy" village board meetings.

"No more Jerry Springer meetings," Spery said. "Our meetings have no decorum or respect for the government, but that's stopping. We have business to do."

The board of trustees voted 4-1 at a special meeting last week to hire a court officer for $100 for up to four hours of work to enforce order at the meetings.

"You get to act up one time, then the gavel is struck and after that you're out," trustee Bruce Summa said.

But trustee Chris Anderson, who voted against the measure, wanted to know why there was a need for enforcement.

"Who are we trying to protect?" he asked, adding that more public input on the issue should have been allowed before the resolution was adopted.

Former Mayor Bill Biondi, who in the past called board meetings "a circus," has blamed himself for the disruptive nature of the gatherings. At various meetings over the past seven months, there was frequent yelling and insults to board members, with some residents speaking for as long as 40 minutes, which resulted in meetings running up to four hours.

Biondi said he found it difficult to cut residents off when they spoke at length. And when he tried to rein people in, he was often ignored or derided. When Biondi and Spery, who was a trustee before her election last month as mayor, argued over issues such as the amount of money the village paid to writers of grant proposals, audience members sometimes shouted "she has the right to speak" and "amateurs."

A meeting last October violated the state fire code when 117 people squeezed into a Village Hall room with a maximum occupancy of 98. Biondi later added a timer to allow residents to speak for only a few minutes.

"Quite honestly, the meetings should have been more under control," said Spery, who promised along the campaign trail to better control meetings.

Monday, she added, "I ran on that, I won on that, and it's starting with the first meeting."

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