Plainview Water District Commissioner and Town Supervisor Democratic candidate Amanda Field made accusations at a Sept. 15 press conference against the administration of Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino of violating her team’s First Amendment rights by blocking the dissemination of leaflets at a public town event on the weekend of Sept. 10.
Field said that she and her team of hopeful candidates for town positions were handing out leaflets at the town’s Waterfont Festival at TOBAY Beach on Sept. 12. Town safety personnel approached them and told them to stop passing out flyers. Heeding the warning, the group then walked around the festival talking to constituents, but were again approached by a town safety officer and were asked to stop disseminating leaflets. Field replied that they had stopped and she didn’t have a bag to put them in. After exiting the festival grounds, the group stood in the parking lot outside the event passing out flyers and were approached a third time to stop, and once more in an angrier manner by a public safety officer who told them again to stop.
“Freedom of speech and the right to leaflet are fundamental to the founding of our democracy,” Field said in her speech across the way from Oyster Bay Town Hall. “Any town code, action, or code that calls into question First Amendment rights preventing such action is unconstitutional and it must be called out. This practice must end.”
The code in question is a Parks and Recreation code which says that dissemination of leaflets at special events “requires restrictions on the time, place and manner of such speech, assembly, expression and leafleting” out of the protection of residents and so as to not bother them at these events. To give out leaflets, one can apply for a permit to do so. The ordinance, adopted in 2006, was deemed unconstitutional in 2009, but was revised thereafter to balance the welfare of residents attending events and freedom of expression.
In response to the recent accusations, Town Spokesperson Marta Kane said, “The Oyster Bay Democratic ticket supports defunding the police yet also believes they’re above the law. Town codes are in place for over a decade to protect the public from annoying business and political solicitations during a family outing. Candidates running for elected office should respect the law rather than break it.”
Field and her team said this code is still unconstitutional.
At a TOB Board Meeting on Sept. 14, Town Councilwoman candidate Lisa Reinhardt spoke during public comment, expressing her concern for the situation. She said that she is for differing viewpoints and defending infringements of First Amendment rights, but said that “Sunday was not an example of either.”
In response, Saladino brought up Town Attorney Frank Scalera, who disputed the claims of infringement.
He explained that a group has to get a permit in order to be at the event. Saladino said that the group of candidates were “very new and inexperienced, so they are probably unaware that this has gone through all the processes of federal court and they determined that there is absolutely no infringment on free speech in the manner in which the town has set up this system and its code.”
He later referenced an incident of a religious group who took the town to court in in 2008 because they were arrested and removed from a Music Under the Stars event after passing out leaflets to residents. Saladino said that the code was upheld in the federal court case. In comparison, the ruling of the case, People v. Mendelson, stated that the code was unconstitutional and the code was altered in 2009 to balance the right to free speech and the welfare of the public.
In response to the court claims, Field said these were a lie told by Saladino and said, “It was another feeble attempt to belitte Town Councilwoman candidate Lisa Reinhardt.”
In his explanation of the code, Saladino also said the code is in place for environmental reasons so that flyers don’t end up littered and in the waterways, “and therefore the accusations made earlier are just not true.”
As for environmental claims, Field noted that although her team were passing out leaflets at the event, it pales in comparison to what she said was “millions” of taxpayer dollars to send out self-promotional flyers to residents over the course of the election cycle. Kane said in response that communications with residents cost less than a stamp per household due to lower bulk pricing.
This isn’t the first time that Saladino has been accused of silencing opposition.
In 2013, the town settled a lawsuit with Former Bay Constable and town board candidate Christopher Briggs who captured photos and video of Town Attorney Frank Scalera using a town-owned vehicle with campaign signs in it, and town employees taking down opposing candidate signs. The town admitted to no wrongdoing in the settlement and had to tell town employees to stop removing signs.
Four years later, Saladino himself was accused by Village Administrator Bruce Kennedy of taking down publicly posted signs for Democratic candidates in Sea Cliff.
In 2019, his administration was called out by residents, local Democrats and the New York Civil Liberties Union for deleting negative comments on the town’s Facebook page and blocking critics. The town said it has policy of removing content that is “obscene, offensive or otherwise inappropriate,” and those who were blocked were repeat offenders. Some residents and candidates who spoke out about the administration said their comments were critical, but not offensive.
Field and her team were not issued any tickets or summons after the incident on Sept. 12. Asked about whether Democrats plan to file a lawsuit, Field said they very well may, but isn’t sure just yet. She added that she wants to research her facts before making any judgement calls.