Nearly two months after Hempstead Town’s administration censored an official press release on the government’s website, Receiver of Taxes Don Clavin thanked a bipartisan group of Town Board members for approving his legislation, which was sponsored by Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, Majority Leader Erin King Sweeney and Councilman Anthony D’Esposito. The legislation, approved at a recent Hempstead Town Board meeting, prohibits this unacceptable threat to free speech from happening again in the future. Also joining them in support of the measure were Councilmembers Ed Ambrosino, Bruce Blakeman and Dennis Dunne, Sr.
Proposed by Clavin, and introduced to the Town Board by the bipartisan coalition of councilmembers, the legislation protects free speech and guards against unwarranted censorship. Under the legislation, elected officials are now authorized to place press releases on the town’s website and social media outlets without securing approvals from the administration or other town officials.
“I thank the Hempstead Town Board for approving this important legislation that protects freedom of speech within our government,” Clavin said. “After all, as America’s largest township, we should be able to operate within the rights that are guaranteed under the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, and never be censored when it comes to serving our taxpayers.”
This legislation was drafted in June, shortly after the town’s administration removed a Clavin press release from the government website, toh.li. Clavin held a press conference on Monday, June 11, 2018, which announced a successful campaign by the Receiver, some county legislators and a group of angry senior citizens, calling upon the Nassau County Department of Assessment to reverse its decision to halt the mailing of important property value notices to Nassau homeowners. The notices provide important information, and the contents are the basis upon which many homeowners decide whether or not to challenge their property taxes. The press conference was accompanied by a press release, a key part of the effort to advise the public of the fact that they will continue to receive vital property tax information from county government.
The Supervisor’s administration approved the press release and posted it to the town’s website. However, almost as soon as the press release appeared, it was stricken from the town’s website by the administration’s staff on June 14, 2018. Clavin immediately wrote to the Town Board, asking for a legislative measure that would prevent such an action from happening again.
“The First Amendment is near and dear to my heart, as I have fought tirelessly to protect free speech and our constitutional rights for decades,” Goosby said. “Censorship is unacceptable here in America’s largest township, and I support this legislation because it will protect us from those who would limit our right to free speech.”
“To achieve true transparency in government, we must ensure that our town’s website and social media channels are free of censorship,” King Sweeney said. “The town’s website, in particular, is a key resource for residents seeking municipal documents and contracts, as well as event listings and important public service announcements. I proudly support this legislation to protect the free speech of elected officials representing America’s largest township.”
“Government press releases are vital sources of information for our residents, and no elected official or staffer has the right to block another elected official from distributing them through the town’s website or social media channels,” said Councilman Anthony D’Esposito. “It’s quite disturbing that the current administration decided to expunge an informative press release submitted by our tax receiver’s office. However, under the new legislation, no one will be above the law.” D’Esposito also cited that at least one of his office’s press releases was censored by the administration from appearing on the Town of Hempstead website.
The legislation that Clavin and his colleagues on the Hempstead Town Board championed provides all Hempstead Town elected officials with direct access to the township’s website and social media channels, providing them with the ability to post press releases, videos and other content that is related to activities, proposals, statements and other undertakings done in the course of their work on behalf of the residents whom they are elected to represent. The content can relate to local, county, state, federal or other governmental issues or other topics of interest or which promote the general welfare of the town’s residents. Further, the legislation prohibits any town official or his/her staff from overseeing, approving, disapproving, removing, altering or otherwise editing the press releases, videos or other related content of the town’s elected officials.
“Communicating with residents is so crucial to governing,” said Councilman Ed Ambrosino. “To censor materials created by town officials is a violation of the principles upon which our nation was founded. This legislation protects our First Amendment rights, and I fully support it.”
“My late father was a proud veteran who courageously fought for our rights as Americans, and he would be proud of all of us for protecting our right to free speech under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution,” Councilman Bruce Blakeman said. “This legislation safeguards our ability as elected officials to disseminate important news and announcements to our residents without being censored. That’s something we can all rally around as Hempstead Town residents, and as Americans.”
“Being a veteran, I know a thing or two about protecting the freedoms which comprise the building blocks of our nation,” said Councilman Dennis Dunne. “To try to tamper with our right to free speech is an insult to all of those who have fought or sacrificed their lives for our country. I support this legislation because it solidifies our right to express free speech in Hempstead Town without censorship.”
Clavin thanked the Town Board members for their support of the important free speech legislation.
“The First Amendment can never be taken for granted,” Clavin said. “Censoring elected officials from communicating with the constituents whom they represent violates our constitutional rights. I thank my Town Board colleagues for their support and for approving this vital legislation.”