03/19/13 5:30pm
03/19/2013 5:30 PM

liveblog

The Riverhead Town Board approved a resolution Tuesday night to amend the town’s contract with VHB, a consulting firm that’s been working on the town’s subdivision and planning study at the Enterprise Park at Calverton property.

The amendment allows VHB to represent clients before the town. That is so long as the firm is not involved in projects in EPCAL, and so long as VHB employees keep information they get from their town work confidential.

VHB representatives have said that since the EPCAL study has taken longer than expected, “their inability to provide services to potential clients” in Riverhead Town has caused the firm to “suffer significant loss of business opportunities,” according to the resolution.

VHB officials had said if the amendment was not approved, the firm would cancel its contract with the town.

The Hauppauge firm’s planning work is costing the town about $500,000.

Supervisor Sean Walter said the town couldn’t afford to lose VHB’s services in the EPCAL study at this point.

“We’re one year away from finishing it now,” he said. “If VHB quits, we’d be two years away.”

In addition, the board formally amended its rules and procedures to remove a ban on booing that it approved two weeks ago.

News-Review reporter Tim Gannon reported live from the meeting.

Click below to read a recap, and see the full agenda and resolution packet below that.

 

March 19, 2013 – Agenda by rnews_review

 

 

March 19, 2013 – Packet by rnews_review

03/12/13 5:55pm
03/12/2013 5:55 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Councilman James Wooten (from left), Councilman John Dunleavy and Supervisor Sean Walter in Town Hall.

After eliciting Bronx cheers from across the region and the country, Riverhead’s now-famous ban on booing at Town Board meetings may end up having a very short shelf life.

A majority of Town Board members now say they want to amend the rules and procedures they adopted last Tuesday to remove the ban on “booing” and simply ban “disruptive” behavior instead.

Council members Jodi Giglio, John Dunleavy, Jim Wooten and George Gabrielsen all confirmed in interviews Tuesday that they support eliminating the controversial ban on booing, news of which caught national attention after the rules were adopted last week.

“Maybe we made a boo boo when we adopted that,” Mr. Gabrielsen said.

Supervisor Sean Walter could not be reached for comment.

“We all agreed on that. Take booing out and hope that people will be decent,” Ms. Giglio said. “The whole four-page document was to keep order during the Town Board meeting, so that board members and the people in the audience would be respectful of the people speaking at the podium.

“It’s hard enough for people to get up and speak in public without being booed.”

She said there was booing and arguing back and forth with speakers during the Wading River Corridor Study hearings last year.

Mr. Dunleavy said that removing booing and simply prohibiting “disruptive behavior” at board meetings should suffice. He wanted to discuss it further with other board members.

Ms. Giglio said she plans to bring the issue up at Thursday’s public Town Board work session.

“I didn’t agree with it to begin with, so I would have no problems with it going away,” said Mr. Wooten, who was the only board member to vote against the new rules and procedures last week.

The board adopted a four page set of new rules and procedures for Town Board members last week, which included a line that read: “no member of the public shall engage in any demonstration, booing, hand-clapping or otherwise disrupt the formality of a Town Board meeting.”

But board members removed the clapping ban before adopting the measure, after hearing criticism from a resident.

After a story about the booing ban appeared in Newsday last Wednesday, the story went national, with media outlets all over the country writing and commenting on the ban.

Aquebogue attorney Ron Hariri, on Monday, even filed a notice of claim, seeking $1 million in punitive damages and claiming that the ban impeded his freedom of speech and expression.

Mr. Walter said Monday that booing is not a form of free speech, it’s a way of intimidating people who are trying to speak.

tgannon@timesreview.com

03/11/13 4:00pm
03/11/2013 4:00 PM
Town Board budget, state audit

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | The Town Board last week adopted procedural rules last week.

Just days after Riverhead Town’s controversial vote to ban booing at Town Board meetings became national news, a local attorney has filed a notice of claim seeking to overturn that ban on the grounds that it is a violation of free speech and expression.

RON HARIRI

RON HARIRI

Ron Hariri of Aquebogue, an outspoken critic of town government who has a law practice in Manhattan, wasted no time in filing the notice of claim  Monday.

The booing ban was part of an otherwise unexciting set of new rules and procedures for Town Board meetings adopted last Tuesday, March 5. A section of the new rules reads that “no member of the public shall engage in any demonstration, booing, hand clapping or otherwise disrupt the formality of a Town Board meeting.”

Hand clapping was later deemed allowed.

Since the adoption of the new rules, that one sentence in the four page rules and procedures has been reported and commented on nationwide.

Mr. Hariri’s notice of claim, which reserves the right to file a lawsuit, states that he seeks to overturn the regulations, “which outlaw a member of the public from booing at Town Board meetings, in violation of the rights of free speech and freedom of expression guaranteed under the federal and state constitutions.”

The notice of claim then lists a number of recent Town Board actions that Mr. Hariri says he is now prohibited from booing at Town Board meetings, including “creation of Long Island’s largest junk yard at the EPCAL property in Calverton, with potential damage to the environment; the town’s failure to adopt necessary measures to combat violence and crime, such as drive-by shootings in downtown Riverhead; the town’s failure to shut down illegal immigrant rooming houses and drug dens operated in violation of law,” and other examples.

Mr. Hariri’s notice of claim asks that the rules and procedures be overturned, and he seeks $1 million in punitive damages from the town, “to deter future misconduct.”

The lawsuit names the five Town Board members who voted for the new rules, but not Councilman Jim Wooten, who opposed them.

Mr. Wooten said in an interview that he believed  the rules sought to control the actions of the board, and that he didn’t think they were necessary.

Mr. Hariri targeted his criticism at Supervisor Sean Walter, saying “given the history of failure by the Walter administration, it’s no surprise he seeks to muzzle free speech by concerned citizens.”

“That’s just comical,” Mr. Walter told a reporter in response to news of the claim notice. “What did Mark Twain say? It’s better to be thought a fool and remain silent than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. Booing is not a form of free speech, booing is an intimidation tactic that intimidates others from speaking.

“You can’t boo in Congress or the state Legislature, you shouldn’t be allowed to boo at a Town Board meeting. This is not an Islander-Ranger game.”

The board previously had no rules for governing its meetings, and the rules adopted were mostly taken from rules and procedures in other towns, and from Robert’s Rules of Order, Mr. Walter has said. Three members of the board could vote to suspend the rules at any time.

In an interview with the News-Review, Robert Freeman, the longtime executive director of the state Committee on Open Meetings, sided with the town on its decision.

“New York State Town Law says the board has the ability to adopt rules to govern its own proceedings,” he said Friday. “The rules have to be reasonable, but certainly they have the ability to establish rules that are designed to guarantee common courtesy and the avoidance of disruption.”

He added that towns are not even required by law to allow the public to speak at board meetings.

Mr. Hariri has sought to run for town office in the past — including in 2011 when he sought the Democratic nod to run for supervisor — but said he’s made no decision on running this year.

He recently recovered from a bought with cancer, he said.

“I just won my battle against cancer, and I think there may a few fights left in me,” he said Monday.

tgannon@timesreview.com