Fighting for Free Speech - Bi-partisan Proposal Would Guard against Censorship After Town Administration Removes Elected Official's Press Release from Government Website

Issued by: Receiver of Taxes Don Clavin

A week after Hempstead Town’s administration removed an official press release authored by Receiver of Taxes Don Clavin from its website, a bi-partisan coalition of town Council Members are joining the Receiver to propose legislation that would protect free speech and guard against unwarranted censorship.  Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby and Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, along with several other members of the Town Board have joined forces to ensure that elected officials can place press releases on the town’s website and social media outlets without securing approvals from the administration or other town officials.  The legislation would also prohibit a recurrence of an incident whereby the town’s administration removed a Clavin press release from the township’s website.  At the press announcement, town officials stated that their proposal “drew a line in the sand” in support of the First Amendment.

“Freedom of speech is at the core of our democracy, and it is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America,” said Clavin.  “A bi-partisan group of Hempstead Town officials is coming together to protect the right of free speech and take steps to guard against censorship.”

The proposal that Clavin and his colleagues on the Hempstead Town Board are championing would provide 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 would prohibit 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.

“I am a champion of the First Amendment,” proclaimed Goosby.  “I have lived through the experience of people trying to diminish my voice, and I will never accept inappropriate limits on free speech, and will continue to be a staunch fighter against government censorship.”

“A commitment to openness and transparency demands that all town elected officials have equal and unrestricted ability to place their press releases on the township’s official website for viewing by the public,” stated King Sweeney.  “I have fought for commonsense reforms in our government and am proud to support local legislation on this issue.”

Clavin said that the need for the “free speech and censorship” legislation at the town level came out of an unfortunate experience that he recently confronted with a governmental press release that his office produced.  The Receiver held a press conference on Monday, June 11, 2018, which announced a successful campaign by Clavin, 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.

“No town elected official should have the power to approve, disapprove or remove the posting of news releases from Hempstead Town’s governmental website,” said Councilman Anthony D’Esposito.  “I am happy to be working with Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby and my colleagues on the Town Board to present legislation that safeguards free speech and protects against censorship.”

“Giving residents access to more uncensored information from their public officials is at the core of good government,” said Councilman Ed Ambrosino.  “I fully endorse a plan to allow all town elected officials to communicate with taxpayers without censorship by any government official or staff.”

“As a veteran, I am keenly aware that brave men and women have fought and died to protect our right to free speech,” stated Councilman Dennis Dunne.  “Our freedoms are being taken away one step at a time, and I am committed to fighting for the preservation of the First Amendment at the town level.”

After the “disappearing press release” incident, Clavin wrote a letter to his colleagues on the Hempstead Town Board, dated June 15th, asking for the Council Members to take legislative action that would grant all elected officials full access and the ability to post their press releases on the township’s website.

“I agree with United States Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s statement, ‘The First Amendment, I think, is the jewel of our Constitution,’” concluded Clavin.  “By providing full access to the township’s website for elected officials, we are protecting free speech in America’s largest township.