Keep Your Dissent Timid Under New N.Y. Town’s Meeting Rules


A Long Island town has a new law that won’t allow citizens to boo or hiss their disapproval of proceedings during council meetings.

CBS 2 of New York reports the five-member Riverhead town council approved the no-booing resolution when it adopted rules of procedure at its March 5 meeting.

One councilman voted against the new rule, saying: “I don’t really need somebody or a policy telling me how I should behave in public.” The measure passed 4-1 anyway.

The council in the 33,000-person town admitted it intends to enforce the rule only with words, since the resolution provides no penalty for transgressors. If you “engage in any disruptive demonstration, booing or otherwise disrupt the formality of a Town Board meeting,” you’ll simply be told to quit.

Many American towns and county governments have similar clauses in their rules of procedure; others cover civil-but-disruptive dissent under ordinances, which can be enforced with penalties.

In Riverhead, every council meeting begins with an invocation, and the council is more generous than many municipal governments with its five-minute speaking limit during each meeting’s public comments portion.

Perhaps the local attention Riverhead has gotten over its disruption clause actually serves to illustrate the overhaul that’s needed for so many other municipalities’ rules of procedure.

Personal Liberty

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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