By Danny Schrafel
Following instances of disruptive behavior at recent council meetings, and with recent tragic events across the country in mind, town officials are beefing up security at Huntington Town Hall and voted Tuesday to codify “long-standing” rules of board meeting decorum.
The rules prohibit firearms at Town Hall, other than those carried by police or peace officers; require “courteous behavior” by town staff and visitors; and formalize the speakers’ time limit at 3 minutes or less, depending on the supervisor’s discretion. Banners, fliers and placards are allowed, but may not be used in a disruptive manner. The same rule applies for taping meetings.
The rules, which will be added to the town’s policy manual, were printed on large signs posted throughout the board room at Tuesday afternoon’s meeting.
The move to codify the rules, which town spokesman A.J. Carter said have been enforced for decades, was “driven by the desire to ensure that people who come to Town Hall for meetings can feel secure and that they will not be made to feel uncomfortable by the actions of others at the meetings.”
“We’d always adhered to these rules, but we said, ‘We really should codify that into our manual so people are fully aware,’” said Supervisor Frank Petrone.
Seven town public safety officers were present at Tuesday’s meeting – a noticeable increase compared to previous meetings this year. Four were stationed in the board room, another two were in hallways leading to side doors abutting the town board dais, and a seventh was at the sign-in desk checking bags.
“The desire to increase security has been prompted by a variety of events, including, most recently, the tragedy at the South Carolina church,” Carter said.
At the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, nine parishioners were shot to death following Bible study at the historic African-American church on June 17, allegedly by a gunman who harbored white-supremacist sympathies.
The town began taking steps to tighten security in 2013, when visitors were first required to sign in and out. Soon after, town public safety officials began random searches of visitors’ bags.
While the supervisor said that the enhanced rules and security measures are not inspired by any particular event or person’s actions, Petrone said that in Huntington, there have been “experiences” in the board meeting room of disrespectful, disruptive behavior that needed to be addressed.
Most recently, at June’s board meeting, Lloyd Harbor resident and community activist Jeff Bartels was ejected by the supervisor after Bartels repeatedly shouted at Petrone.
“We’re not going to permit that,” Petrone said. “We’ve got to do business, and we’ve got to do business professionally.”
Anyone who disrupts the “orderly conduct of proceedings” will comply with a “call to order” by the supervisor per the code. Failure to comply could result in ejection from the meeting. Repeated refusals to come to order or leave the building could result in arrest on misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges.
The new rules and added security, Carter said, are the continuation of efforts in recent years to increase security at town hall that began with requiring residents to sign in when they arrive in the building.