There are those who would be pleased that Supervisor Barry Weinstein struck a blow for decorum in Amherst Town Board meetings, which sometimes stray from the issue at hand. However, in the interest of free speech and open government, the incident could have been handled in a more tactful manner.
As reported by The News’ Sandra Tan, Williamsville resident Thomas Frank was escorted from the council chambers by the assistant police chief. Apart from Frank’s request for handcuffs – request denied – and a request to return to speak again – also denied – it was business as usual for the board.
And maybe that’s the problem.
Frank is a regular. He appears at both Town Board and Williamsville Village Board meetings, determined to say his piece. Over and over again. For as long as it takes. The resident’s tendency to stray off topic is politely tolerated by the Village Board, maybe to a fault.
The Amherst Town Board has also been patient, but Weinstein’s fuse ran out Monday during several of the board’s seven public hearings. Frank was unwilling to give up the lectern and spoke far beyond the five-minute time limit. Plus, he often veered far from the topic at hand, usually toward the environment or history.
Both may be important topics, but those discussions are inappropriate when several citizens are lined up to offer their views on the installation of neighborhood sidewalks. As Frank stood yet again to offer his commentary, Weinstein did something he had threatened but hadn’t done before: He ordered Frank removed.
Council Member Mark Manna gets credit for coming to Frank’s defense and challenging Weinstein. He was joined in an effort to overturn that ruling by Council Member Richard “Jay” Anderson.
Weinstein clearly had had it. The board offers many opportunities for public input, with a five-minute limit during public hearings and a three-minute limit during public expression periods. For someone to hijack the meeting and prevent others from speaking by engaging in a long diatribe is unacceptable. So was Weinstein’s response.
The resident wasn’t speaking to the issue, nor allowing others to do so. Still, the situation calls for a polite but firm approach, one that acknowledges openness, transparency and inclusion.