Jun 27, 2012 Stephanie Bouvia Uncategorized
DeWitt Police Chief Eugene Conway appeared before the DeWitt Town Board to clarify a misunderstanding that happened back in April: the town, he said, did not authorize Onondaga County Sheriff’s officers to arrest 33 protesters at the New York Air National Guard’s base at Hancock Field.
The local residents were charged with failing to obtain a DeWitt town permit to march into town and protest the U.S. military’s use of unmanned drones, which is required by law. However, Conway said he did not raise the issue of the protestors not having a permit; rather, county sheriff’s officers took it into their own hands. The charges were later dropped by DeWitt Town Justice David Gideon.
“In 10 years, I’ve never denied a permit,” Conway said at the town boarding meeting, Monday, June 25 at 7:30 p.m.
Conway said the misunderstanding was perpetuated when the Post-Standard published a June 21 editorial implying that the town had raised the issue of the protestors not having a permit in order to stifle their first amendment rights.
But rather than violating anyone’s first amendment rights, Conway said he fully supports the rights of people to protest peacefully in the town of DeWitt.
Barrie Gewanter, director of the Central New York chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, spoke at the meeting and said she had previously met with Conway to discuss the issue. She recommended the board clarify the permit law, and specify under what circumstances a group of people should apply for a permit from the town.
“Given the way that the sheriff is using your law, there needs to be written object criteria that can be understood and clear to all,” Gewanter said to the board members.
Ed Kinane, a member of the Syracuse Peace Council and regular protester at Hancock Field, commended the DeWitt Police Department for the respectful way in which its officers regularly treat protesters.
“In all that time, we have never been, in any way, harassed or put under pressure by the DeWitt police,” he said. “We have not felt like law-breakers, we are not engaged in civil disobedience.”
Councilor Irene Scruton agreed that the law needs to be clarified, and said she thinks the board should set up a meeting between DeWitt police, protesters and Gewanter.
“My concern is always just for your safety out there,” she said to Kinane. “I absolutely will defend your right to be out there, but we are always concerned for your safety and the travelling public.”
Town Supervisor Ed Michalenko said he could not agree more. He said he anticipates a group discussion about the issue, followed by a public hearing to amend any kind of change or clarification to the law. The process, however, may take more than a month, Michalenko said.
Other business discussed:
The board approved construction on a 1,000-foot stretch of water main on Erie Boulevard East and Kinne Road at an estimated cost of $200,000.
The board set a public hearing to increase the budget for replacing the street lights at Brittonfield and Pioneer Park. Town engineer Mike Kolceski said the budget will need to be increased by $20,000 in order to install LED lights, rather than high-pressure sodium lights. Currently, the budget is set at $70,000. The hearing was set for 7:45 p.m. Monday, July 9.
The board approved the creation of a property and operations manager to take care of the “day to day” operations of the town, including facility and land maintenance. The job would be a two-year non-competitive position, meaning the board elects the employee, but that person is not considered a town official, so the board also reserves the right to remove that person from the job if necessary. The board appointed Michael Moracco to the position.