Because of widespread interest in the Mayor’s high-handed suppression of a citizen’s constitutional right to freedom of expression at a public meeting, Crotonblog is publishing the following communication and attachment from Seth Davis to the Committee on Open Government in Albany:
“Dear Mayor and Trustees:
I have been traveling on business since Sunday and have finally forced myself to watch the video of Monday night’s meeting.
Please know that I consider Mayor Schmidt’s treatment of my son Kevin to be not only shockingly rude but unlawful. The videotape of the meeting clearly shows that the Mayor asked Kevin to “sit down” less than 5 minutes after Kevin began to speak. Moreover, it is beyond the realm of comprehension for a public official even to suggest that members of the public be barred from speaking at open meetings of a governmental body because they participate in a particular exchange of information in a public medium. While you may not agree with a certain blog, you must recognize that we live and have lived for over 200 years under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees every citizen not only the right to post his opinions wherever he may please, but also to be heard before his representative bodies.
I have filed a request with the New York State Committee on Open Government for an advisory opinion on the legality of Mayor Schmidt’s actions. A copy is included.
For the record, I have ceased posting anything on Crotonblog almost a year ago because of my various disagreements with their mode of operation. Kevin, who is of legal age and able to make such decisions for himself, continues to post there, in what I believe to be a reasoned and respectful manner. Each of us has always signed all postings by name.
Please read this message into the minutes of your next Board meeting.
I believe the Mayor owes a full, formal, public apology to my son, and to the entire community.
Seth A. Davis, 17 Wolf Road, Croton-on-Hudson, NY 10520
PS. I have been informed that some of you don’t read email. If so, may I respectfully ask (1) why are email addresses for each of you prominently displayed on the Village’s web page and (2) how is it, since you don’t read email, that you find Crotonblog to be so troubling?”
To the New York State Committee on Open Government
I am requesting an advisory opinion on actions taken and statements made by Gregory Schmidt, Mayor of the Village of Croton-on-Hudson, at a meeting of the Village Board of Trustees on April 21, 2008. A videotape of the meeting may be found at http://www.webcasting.com/croton/04.21.2008croton.html
The Village has a policy of permitting citizens to speak for periods of 5 minutes during a regular “public participation” period at public meetings of the Board of Trustees. This period of 5 minutes is regularly enforced strictly against speakers who are critical of the Mayor, and extended freely for speakers who speak in favor of the Mayor.
On April 21 my son Kevin Davis, age 18, attempted to address the Board, but was interrupted, rudely and vociferously by the Mayor, and not permitted to finish his prepared remarks. Kevin begins to speak at 49:11 on the video, and at 53:333, Mayor Schmidt, after having interrupted him repeatedly, asked him to sit down, stating “you’ve gone on long enough with this.”
At the conclusion of the meeting the Mayor made a statement that persons who frequent a certain online “blog” that has been critical of him should not be allowed to address Village Board meetings. The Mayor’s comments begin at 1:17:47 of the videotape, and include, in relevant part, the following statements:
“I take umbrage that somebody who participates in Crotonblog… If you’re going to participate in that blog, and destroy this community, I’m not sure that you can really come here and criticize us for the work that we are doing… It is not something I am going to tolerate any more. If you’re going to come to me and talk about it you’re not going to come to this podium and talk about it.”
For the record, Kevin posts comments on Crotonblog (which can be found at www.crotonblog.com) and always identifies himself. I have ceased posting comments on that blog several months ago.
Your advisory opinion is requested on the following points:
Is Mayor Schmidt violating the law by allowing speakers who agree with him to speak longer than speakers who disagree with him?
Is Mayor Schmidt violating the law by interrupting critical speakers and then cutting short their time period for addressing the Board?
Is Mayor Schmidt violating the law by barring citizens the right to speak at public meetings by reason of their participating in a public, online “blog”?
Thank you for your attention.
Seth A. Davis
17 Wolf Road
Croton-on-Hudson, New York 10520