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The Right to Freedom of Speech

April 18, 2013
During a recent North Castle Town Board meeting, the Citizen Comment period was cut short by Supervisor Howard Arden. Regardless of the topic of discussion at hand, Citizen Comment is the only time allotted during a public meeting for citizens to speak freely -- or at least that is the intent of the Citizen Comment period. But the action of terminating the meeting, thereby not allowing spoken opinions on topics that may be opposed to the position of Town Board members, is unacceptable. We live in a democratic society in which the first amendment is freedom of speech. How can our elected officials determine what is appropriate for residents to talk about during Citizen Comment?

The Town Board's public meetings have been recorded and shown on the town's TV station, as well as streamlined on the town website, for many years. The residents pay taxes toward the cost of labor and equipment to videotape these productions, which allows everyone public access to view them at his or her leisure. But during another recent meeting, the citizens' comments were cut short during the playback of the video. Is it the intent of the Town Board, at its whim, to suppress not only the right for people to speak, but the right for people to actually view the entire meeting?

This censorship of citizens’ comments lacks the transparency of good governing policies. The Town Board should allow the citizens' comments to return to public comments. The Town Board should also welcome the people’s voice. Whether or not their opinions coincide, the positions of all the people must be considered by the Town Board since, ultimately, they have the responsibility to establish sound public policies. Open government leads to policies that best reflect the needs of all the people.

The public ridicule of opposing positions is unacceptable. Everyone is entitled to speak his or her mind and to have an opportunity to do so, without being treated disrespectfully.

If you don't like what you see during these meetings, it’s time to vote these people out of office in November. If you feel comfortable that they are representing your beliefs, you can vote for them to continue holding public office. In the meantime, however, people who attend Town Board meetings should be able to voice their concerns, opinions and any other comments, which is, in fact, their first amendment right.

Political Partisanship Occurs at Town Board Meeting
Former Judge Takes Town Board to Task

March 16, 2013
During the community announcements at the opening of the March 13th North Castle Town Board meeting, Councilman John Cronin said, "I want to make everyone aware as of March 5th, Loronda Murphy, who is a former Chairwoman of the North Castle Republican Party, was remanded to jail and is now awaiting a sentencing for mortgage fraud. This was an absolutely disgraceful chapter in this town's political history. This woman was a liar and a thief. She defrauded multiple residents out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, including her own father.

“What is most disturbing to me is the role she played in the town's political structure. She was incredibly involved in the administration of former Supervisor Bill Weaver; in fact, she ran his campaign. She has continued to keep a very close relationship with the town's Republican party."

I'm hopeful that her sentencing will put this all this behind us. I feel sorry for her family. But this woman did quite a bit of harm to a lot of residents in town and now, hopefully, she will be getting what she deserves."  

Councilman Steve D'Angelo said, "John, this is inappropriate to bring this up here." A few people clapped at this comment.

"Bringing Mr. Weaver's name into this. I'm not even going down the road about the election. But something like this shouldn't be …this isn't time for announcements like this, added D'Angelo. "This is community announcements."

"Excuse me, Steve," said Cronin, "I don't really need....I'm announcing it now, it was in the newspaper. I don't need you frankly to tell me what is appropriate or not. That's not your role. And candidly, Loronda was involved early in your candidacy. Let's go with full disclosure."  

"She was the Chairman of the party when you ran," D'Angelo said.  

"No she was not," said Cronin, "Kevin Eccleston was. Why don't you take that back. You are wrong. She had no role."

"She played no role in mine," said D'Angelo.

A few moments later, former Supervisor Bill Weaver asked, "Can I make a comment?"

Supervisor Howard Arden said, "Well, public comment is at the end."

"Someone made an accusation against me," said Weaver, "so I have to wait until the end of the public comment period?"

"That was not on the agenda," said Councilman Michael Schiliro, "so I think a resident has the right to make a comment."

"John made an accusation that some woman was involved in my campaign," said Weaver. "She was not involved in my campaign. I ran my campaign myself with other people. Loronda Murphy was not involved in my campaign. And I don't know why you would make that accusation. As usual, you make accusations that you are not sure are even true. It's not true, Loronda Murphy had nothing to do with my campaign."

"We have pictures of you with her, Loronda getting signatures manning your campaign booth," said Cronin. "You can sit here and deny it, but that's not the point of a town board meeting," added Cronin. "I'm just glad this episode is behind us. And hope you all have learned a lesson. You never disavowed this woman."

Weaver said, "I have a seen pictures with you with a lot of people walking around town doing things. Just because you saw me standing with a woman, doesn't mean she was running my campaign. I ran my own campaign and did everything myself."

At the end of the meeting, during the citizen comment section, former Town Justice Susan Shimer said, "I speak very unhappily. And I speak because of something that happened tonight. I recognized that there will be differences of opinion, as there should be, between the members of the Town Board. I missed a number of meetings and heard there is unhappiness between them from time to time… . But I am going to address something that has come to my attention and was also highlighted tonight. That is, people on the Town Board who make comments that are less than complimentary to our citizenry.

“When I was town judge for 28 years, there were, as none of you would know, many citizens who appeared before me, some of whom went to jail. Fortunately not many. They have their own suffering going to jail-- they didn't need me or anyone else to comment on that in a public forum.

“I debated whether I would keep my remarks private to each of you. But this is a generalization and that's how I'm only addressing it at this point. You have an obligation to our citizens to listen to them, to treat them with respect and, when they are not here to defend themselves, to treat them with respect. None of us live in glass houses. We all have probably made mistakes in our lives, some of them more severe than others.

“As I've said, some of our citizens went to jail, thanks to me. Other citizens went to jail after a felony hearing in this court and the Westchester County court sent them to jail for lengthy terms after trial. And that was between the court and the individual. It should not be between someone saying, 'Hey, you know what happen to so and so. And some of the offenses were quite serious. …Yet they were never to hear from this side of the table of what happen to that individual who was the instigator of trouble.

“I ask you to be respectful. You have an important position. The citizens want to look to you for serious discussions on issues that matter. They want to listen to you and want to be heard."

The following day, on March 14, an anonymous envelope was postmarked and mailed to several residents in town. The envelope contained a copy of a Lohud article that covered Loronda Murphy's court case and arrest.

This was not the first time that an anonymous letter about Loronda Murphy was mailed to residents. Last year, an envelope was received also by several residents that contained Murphy's arrest record and other charges that were filed against her.

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