Last week, at least two assembly members, Dave Kaplan and Chris Lynch, said they received threatening phone calls over a controversial ordinance regarding decorum at meetings.
The ordinance reads, in part, “Every person shall avoid the use of profanities, personally offensive, insulting, threatening, or abusive remarks at all times. Every person while speaking shall avoid personalities, and under no circumstances can a person attack or question the motives of another person.”
After the assembly passed the ordinance on July 3, members of the public showed up to meetings to voice their opposition, believing the ordinance restricted free speech.
An effort to put the ordinance on the Oct. 7 local election ballot to give the public a chance to repeal or uphold it was denied earlier this week. It was denied because some of the paperwork was not in order and because administrative ordinances are not subject to a referendum, according to an email from the borough’s attorney.
After the threats, Kaplan requested a police presence at the work session, citing safety concerns.
A non-uniformed police officer attended the meeting and said he was already planning to attend the meeting as a resident of the borough because another topic on the agenda interested him.
Stephens walked out after he asked if there was going to be an officer in attendance, and the officer identified himself as such.
“I feel the purpose of having that officer here was a false pretext and I find it very offensive and contrary to my view of what government should be about,” Stephens said.
An unidentified community member walked out as well.
Stephens elaborated in a letter he gave to Borough Clerk Nova Javier to be handed out to the assembly members.
“I believe that the request for the presence of law enforcement at tonight’s work session (which I understand was initiated by Dave Kaplan) was made for the purpose of intimidating citizens who would otherwise attend and offer remarks or comments critical of the Assembly’s passage of Ordinance FY2014-20 and/or the Borough clerk’s refusal to certify an application seeking to have that ordinance repealed by referendum. I think this is appalling,” the letter read.
Stephens has been vocal about disagreeing with the ordinance at meetings where the ordinance was up for discussion. He was the only assembly member to vote against it on July 3.
At the end of the work session, Kaplan responded to Stephens’ letter.
“I don’t care, when someone calls my home, personal home number, and threatens me, I’m calling the borough clerk because it’s a safety issue,” Kaplan said. “This is not intimidation, this is the right thing to do, the smart thing to do.”
Kaplan and Assemblywoman Carol Austerman, who co-sponsored the ordinance, thanked Betty MacTavish, a community member who has spoken at several meetings against the ordinance and was gathering signatures for the repeal effort, for disagreeing in a respectful and courteous manner.
“I appreciate that, not just in assembly work sessions, chambers, but also in personal phone calls,” Kaplan said.
MacTavish and other community members still oppose the ordinance.
“I still don’t think some of us are going to go away on this,” said community member Dennis Symmons at the beginning of the session during public comment time.
The ordinance can be repealed in the future, if the assembly chooses.
Contact Julie Herrmann at firstname.lastname@example.org.