Dispute over room occupancy delays public meeting

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East Williston Mayor Bonnie Parente, pictured in 2019, postponed Tuesday's meeting. (Photo by Tom McCarthy)

A much-larger-than-expected turnout at the Village of East Williston Board of Trustees’ first in-person meeting since March resulted in a tense dispute on Monday over lack of physical distancing and, as a result, the meeting being postponed.

Officials designated that the room on the second floor of the Village Hall could contain 37 people at a time, half of its usual occupancy limit, to allow for distancing. Fifty or more people showed up to the meeting, many more than usually attend.

Some attendees were coming to see the board honor the library staff for its work during the novel coronavirus. Others were there to make their voices heard in considering an amendment to the village code.

“The July 13th meeting was on the calendar as a public hearing to discuss much anticipated code changes, to update some outdated provisions and to remove restrictions in certain areas,” East Williston Mayor Bonnie Parente said in an email.

“One example relates to pools. Many people in the room are anxious to put in-ground pools in their backyards and are currently encumbered by how the rear yard coverage is counted. The code will alleviate the need for a variance for pools in yards that are spacious enough to safely accommodate a pool. We’ve also proposed an option for electronic pool covers with alarms, with a perimeter fence. Several residents in the room were apparently there to support changes to driveway curb-cuts regulations. There were certainly residents in the room who also wanted to speak out against certain changes, in favor of keeping our village from over-building.”

After the board honored the library staff and said the pledge of allegiance, one man in the crowd, who identified himself as Tom Mulligan, a 30-year resident of the village, stood up and levied a number of complaints at the board.

First, he asserted that there were far too many people in the room to safely hold a meeting, and the older occupants in the room were being put at risk. Second, that there had not been adequate notice of the meeting.

Mulligan said for a meeting of this importance, a letter of notice should be mailed to every resident. He also said he was there on behalf of several other people who could not attend due to health concerns.

Parente said that she had posted a notice in local news outlets and put notice on social media and believes that she did provide adequate notice, but agreed with Mulligan that there were too many people in the room. The two debated with each other as Mulligan tried to make his dissatisfaction with the board known, even talking over the mayor at one point, leading Parente to propose postponing the discussion for 30 days.

This sparked anger from other members of the crowd, who were anxious to discuss the proposed amendment and other issues. Some suggested the meeting be held outdoors, and another suggested that Mulligan simply leave. Neither of these ideas was accepted by the mayor, who said Mulligan had a right to be heard, as did the rest of the public.

The debate among the crowd, Mulligan and Parente went on for about 20 minutes and resulted in the board approving a motion to postpone the discussion.

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