Protest crowd prompts talk of law

KINDERHOOK–At last week’s Village Board meeting Mayor James Dunham raised the question of whether the village needs some sort of mass gathering law. Mr. Dunham said the issue came up after hundreds of people gathered in front of Congressman John Faso’s Kinderhook office on the village square last month to protest Mr. Faso’s stance on repealing the Affordable Care Act.

The Republican congressman represents the 19th Congressional District, which includes all of Columbia County. He began his first term last month, and protesters have called on him to hold town meetings with constituents. Mr. Faso lives close to the center of the village and protesters marched from the square to his house and talked to him on the sidewalk in front of his house for about 45 minutes at the January 28 event.

Congressman John Faso (R -19th) (center) talks to protesters in front of his house on Sylvester Street in the Village of Kinderhook on January 28. Hundreds of people gathered on the village square outside his office before marching to house. The Village Board is looking into a mass gathering law to make sure future rallies in area account for public safety. Photo by David Lee

At the February 8 board meeting, Mayor Dunham said that organizers of the protest contacted him about the using the square a few days before the gathering. He said his main concern was that “things got off safely and peacefully, which they did.” He had talked to Village Attorney Rob Fitzsimmons about the event and learned from Mr. Fitzsimmons that the village has no mass gathering law.

Mr. Dunham said that Mr. Fitzsimmons also pointed out that people have a First Amendment right to protest and there may be “pop-up” protests.

The mayor said that if a group wants to use the village’s bandstand they would need to provide insurance, but that they did not need insurance for the protest on the square last month.

He said he does want some kind of law to make sure that gatherings are safe.

Local law enforcement was made aware of the event in January but kept a low profile during the protest and short march, the mayor said.

The mayor also said at the meeting that he’d contacted the state Conference of Mayors about laws in other municipalities.

Besides having the congressman’s district office, the village hosts several events that draw crowds, like last summer’s Food Truck nights.

“I want to talk to Rob further about it and give it some thought,” Mr. Dunham said to the board, referring to a local law.

Trustee Robert Baumeister mentioned parking as an issue, as he said it was at the January 28 event. He said cars were parked the wrong way and blocked driveways near the congressman’s house on Sylvester Street.

Mayor Dunham said that the village doesn’t have parking ticket law, either, which was another issue the board may want to look into.

Also at the meeting:

• Planning Board member David Flaherty updated the Village Board on solar panel regulations and sandwich board signs. The draft of a new zoning law on solar panels in the village is being circulated to board members and reviewed by the village attorney.

As for sandwich board signs that some businesses have already set up in the village in violation of the zoning code, Mr. Flaherty said, “Nobody has an issue with them.” He said the Planning Board is working to come up with a “design regulations” so that businesses can put them out to draw attention to their shops.

“Down the road we might come up with a permanent sign,” that would offer information about local businesses

• Economic Development Director Renee Shur presented the board with a plan for the monarch butterfly garden in Mills Park. She said that the project would need donated services. There are still some questions about costs to redesign the park, she said.

The next village meeting will be Wednesday, March 8 at 7:30 p.m. in the Village Hall.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email moc.r1508811450epapa1508811450ibmul1508811450oc@el1508811450adsae1508811450te1508811450.

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