Settlement of Lawsuit Causes Town of Oyster Bay to Revise its Rules of Decorum for Public Meetings

Farrell Fritz, P.C.
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This blog post provides an update to a post that was published on November 30, 2020, regarding a dispute over the Town of Oyster Bay’s recently adopted rules governing conduct at public meetings.  The new procedures, which created rules of decorum and prohibited inappropriate and disruptive behavior during public meetings, were challenged by Kevin McKenna, a town resident and self-described “citizen advocate” in an action brought in Federal court.

The dispute now appears to be resolved. On December 21, 2020, U.S. District Court Judge Gary Brown dismissed the case after he was informed by lawyers for Mr. McKenna and the Town that the parties had reached a settlement in principle, and that the Town Board would consider a draft of amended rules at a Town Board meeting to be held in January.

Earlier this week, at the Town Board’s January 12, 2021, meeting, the Board voted to amend its public meeting rules.  The amended rules remove the language prohibiting speakers from making political statements or using language deemed offensive, insolent or slanderous.  The new language states that speakers and members of the public “shall not disrupt, delay, or otherwise impeded the orderly conduct of the proceedings by defaming, intimidating, making personal insults, making threats of violence or threats against public order and security.”  Signs and banners may be displayed at public meetings, provided they do not contain obscene language, obstruct the view of other attendees or otherwise interfere with the meeting.

In recognition of the doubt expressed by Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas that violations of the Town’s vague and subjective rules of decorum would lead to prosecution for disorderly conduct under Penal Code, Section 240.20, the amended rules remove all references to disorderly conduct prosecutions.  Instead, if an individual violates the Town’s rules of decorum, the presiding officer will issue a verbal warning to that person.  If the violations continue, all comment or debate shall end and the individual will be asked to leave the meeting room, and if they refuse, will be directed to leave the room.  If the individual still refuses to leave, the presiding officer may seek the assistance of law enforcement to remove the disruptive individual.

A recent Newsday article reports that the settlement also requires the Town to make a $15,000 payment to Mr. McKenna to cover his legal fees.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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