Plan in the works to repeal Riverhead’s ‘boo ban’

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.

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