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Smithtown adopts 3-minute speaking time limit at public meetings

Lauren R. Harrison

Smithtown Town Board members have approved amendments to the town code that regulate public participation at town board meetings.

By a 4-0 vote, with Councilman Edward Wehrheim absent, members adopted changes focusing on decorum that allow the board to cut off comments that violate rules.

Supervisor Patrick Vecchio said the amendments, which were adopted Nov. 19 and took effect immediately, came about as a result of recent meetings where public speakers used increasingly vitriolic language.

“Over the last month, citizens attending meetings have become particularly vehement, disrespectful, demeaning and almost abusive to those elected to serve on the town board,” Vecchio said in an interview Tuesday. “Town Hall meetings are the best example of participatory democracy, instituted by our founding fathers, and those meetings should not be abused by insults, personal character assassinations and in many instances irrelevant or false information.”

Among the changes: Each person can speak for three minutes at most, and cannot share the time limit with others; speakers must address the board as a body, not any individual member; and the public and board members can state their opinions only “in an atmosphere free of slander, threats of violence, or the use of the board as a forum for politics,” according to a copy of the amendment to Chapter 76 of the town code.

The board can warn a speaker at any time. But any person making “offensive, insulting, threatening, insolent, slanderous or obscene remarks or who becomes boisterous or who makes threats against any person” will be removed, perhaps by the public safety officer, from the meeting at the direction of the presiding officer, unless permission to continue is granted by majority vote of the board members present, the code shows.