Thursday, February 28, 2008
A Westport Town Hall incident in which a resident yelled obscenities during a public meeting and acted “in a threatening manner” brought a vow today from First Selectman Gordon F. Joseloff that such behavior won’t be tolerated.
In a memo to department heads and chairs of boards and commissions, Joseloff said the incident occurred Tuesday night during a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting and resulted in police being called.
The first selectman gave no details of the incident and the person involved was not identified.
Joseloff said he has conferred with police officials and security measures for Town Hall meetings are under review.
The text of the memo as released by his office:
“On Tuesday night at a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting, a member of the public became unruly, yelling obscenities at board members and acting in a threatening manner that resulted in police having to be called.
“The incident is deeply regrettable and only underscores that Westport is not immune from frightening and potentially violent outbursts at public meetings and in public places.
“I have conferred with the Westport Police Department and we will be reviewing security measures for Town Hall and for Town Hall meetings.
“I have already informed the ZBA and P&Z chairs that I and our police officials will be meeting with them and those commissioners who so desire to further discuss these measures. I will be happy to schedule similar meetings with others.
“In the meantime, I want you and all Westporters to know that from now on, we have zero tolerance for any threatening behavior in Town Hall or at public meetings.
“Clearly we will not attempt to infringe on anyone’s right to make their views known at public meetings. But it must be done in a non-threatening manner. Those who engage in such behavior will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Posted 02/28/08 at 10:25 PM Permalink
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This is Westport, this New England Public forums are not always a civil, PC, California, kiss me deal. Go read “Rally round the flag boys” Think back to the major issues that faced this town over the past 50 years. Loud feisty, ballsy speeches and debates have been the rule rather than the exception. This is not a promotion or acceptance of violence. BUT loud, in your face debate, has a place in these times of apathy and indecision in government and rule, where many feel their opinions are being ignored. Referendums could release some of this pressure, allowing a vote on hot issues
And I agree with Chris with Tasers we all will be safe anyway(bad idea)
How funny that you both saw this piece and thought “tasers.” I did, too! Wonder what that incident, reported with “no details” and without the name of the “suspect” (who might be anyone, including many of our more outspoken citizens) really entailed. The first selectman’s statement—“Westport is not immune from frightening and potentially violent outbursts at public meetings and in public places”—sure seems more geared toward frightening us than anything else. Hmmm…where have I seen that tactic before? Orange alert, anyone?
I think referenda are a fine idea. Even if they’re not binding, wouldn’t it be great to have a “sense of the community” question or two on the ballot at each election? I think we’d find some big surprises.
I wanted to see what actually happened at the ZBA Meeting on Tuesday, so I went to the town website to see the archived town meetings. The streaming video of the ZBA meeting is not available, even though more recent meeting are available for viewing. I hope that Town Hall will eventually post this meeting.
I sincerely hope that everyone will take the time to view the ZBA meeting video( edited or unedited) when it comes available.
The circumstances that night were very frightening and by no means simply an expression of “loud, feisty,ballsy” debate as was noted above.
Obviously the person making the comment was not in attendance that night and therefore commented without benefit of the facts.
While referendums are a very potent method for deciding matters impacting the town, they are, by design, rare and expensive. A more common way for people to have their opinions heard is to participate in the regularly scheduled and publicly noticed commission and board meetings (P&Z;, RTM, etc.) Or through speaking with or writing to their elected officials. These are some the bedrock tools we have chosen in our form of government.
On this coming Tuesday March 4th at 8 PM in Town Hall, the RTM will be voting on an appropriation to buy Tasers for the Westport Police. If you have an opinion about this matter, now is the time to speak. You can also call or email your RTM member, phone numbers and email addresses can be found at http://www.westportct.gov/government/boards/rtm.htm
RTM District 9
While Mr. McCarthy is right that attending meetings and/or writing our representatives is the “common way to have… opinions heard,” it is not, in my experience in Westport, a way to have my opinions matter. I used to think I was just out of step with what most Westporters want, but the turf referendum in Ridgefield—2390 against, 962 for—was pretty amazing. I understand that referenda are expensive and “rare.” But I do think a kind of ongoing, nonbinding “Referendum Line Lite” online would be a cool idea. Mr. Joseloff has placed up-to-date technology high on Westport’s priority list, and it would be wonderful to use it to get a better sense of what the taxpayers (not just the squeakiest wheels on various matters) really want.
Two follow ups to my comments:
1) Yes I did hear what went on at the meeting and it was not pretty BUT knowing many builders and individuals who have been involved with town committees the behavior is not a shock, bigger shock the incident is not happened before, people are very disenfranchised with the opinions and behavior of many of our town boards
2) What the hell makes a referendum so expensive? If it is not a unique occurrence but occurs with a election that already is scheduled how expensive can it be? And what is the legal and lack town wide stated opinion (the YMCA, zoning, low income housing blackmail) cost in comparison ?
My comment was referring to how a referendum must be carried out under Westport’s town charter. Westport’s town charter allows for referendums on only certain matters, and the referendum must be done through a Special Election to be held as soon as practical after a petition for referendum has been certified.
Agreed that putting a binding question to voters at the time of a regularly scheduled election would require minimal, if any, additional cost. But I do not think that there is any mechanism in place that allows for that.
RTM District 9
Newtown used to (still does?) have a referendum on the Budget every year. It often took two or three rounds to get passed. Very annoying and expensive. But it’s the price of democrazy.
The town Boards run into the conundrum that exists at the core of a “representative democracy.” We elect the best people we can to do the jobs we ask of them, and then tell them that they didn’t do it the way we wanted them to, but we don’t want to do the job either.
What was the original question?
The argument against tasers is similar to stating that “since Westport rarely has a shooting, we should not spend the money on bullet-proof vests.” (An exaggeration of course)
While I have personally been upset by watching the Youtube videos of inappropriate taser use, I understand that bad things happen with other weapons too including batons, fists, and guns. I supported the police department’s request during the Board of Finance vote. When our police chief requests a tool, I feel it’s our obligation to give it to him as long as we are confident of the due diligence that went into the request.
Regarding the incident at the Zoning Board of Appeals - I did not see what transpired but can imagine how tense it must have been for everyone there - the board, audience, and the perpetrator. Civility in government is imperative to reduce tensions and improve safety. The shooter in the recent suburban Kirkwood City Council tragedy, lost a lawsuit against the city days before he attacked. The judge ruled that the city did not violate his free speech rights when it removed him from city council meetings for making “repetitive, personal, virulent attacks.”