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Attorney: Hoefer’s Right To Free Speech Was ‘Trashed’

GOSHEN, NY – When the Middletown school board president Will Geiger refused to let out-of-towner Fran Hoefer speak at the March 4 school board meeting, he violated the spirit of state Open Meetings Law, the state’s expert on the subject told the Times Herald-Recorder last week.

“If the public is given the opportunity to speak at a meeting, the board cannot distinguish among those who seek to speak,” said Bob Freeman, executive director of the Committee on Open Government.

That opinion was accentuated this morning (March 8) at the Goshen office of Civil Rights lawyer Michael Sussman.

The attorney and the Democratic Alliance of Orange County spoke out on behalf of minority-faction members of the Middletown School Board and Hoefer.

Besides Hoefer and Sussman, Middletown board members Nick Mauro and Lynne Perkins conducted the press conference.

Sussman told Oswego County Today that the board members showed “a profound lack of accountability” in denying Hoefer his First Amendment right to free speech.

Sussman said he heard about the incident at the school board meeting, and it piqued his interest.

“I have never heard of Mr. Hoefer until then,” he said. “When I heard he had not been allowed to speak and in essence was removed from the meeting and arrested, I was flabbergasted.”

However, the attorney said he wasn’t completely surprised. Recently, he had been invited to speak in front of the board.

“When I started speaking, three of the board members got up and left. They called a quick recess to discuss whether or not I should be permitted to speak,” he said. “So, this just isn’t something that happened out of the blue. This school board is dysfunctional.”

The board has “trashed” the First Amendment, he said, adding, “I don’t want to be a part of that.”

There were several speakers at the press conference, Sussman said. It was well attended by the general public and elected officials as well as the media, he added.

“Mr. Hoefer spoke about his situation and others spoke as well regarding the message the school board was sending by not allowing someone to speak at its meeting,” Sussman said.

According to the Times Herald-Record’s account of the press conference, Hoefer said: “I’m a peaceful man. I can be fiery, and I’m passionate about public education and what’s happening to our children. What happened to me was an act of violence…I don’t want to be afraid of public education, I don’t want to be afraid of autocrats carting me away.”

Hoefer said he came at Mauro’s invitation, and wanted to speak on behalf of board member Roy Paul, who has been the subject of an inquiry for possible removal.

“I also came here to tell this community what Ken Eastwood is,” Hoefer said, “and I didn’t have to say a word to do it.”

Hoefer indicated that he would come back and attend another Middletown school board meeting in April.

“This isn’t about the content of what Hoefer had to say. We’re not taking sides here,” Sussman said. “We don’t feel it is right for them to deny his right to speak. His right to speak shouldn’t be suppressed. It isn’t right to suppress someone’s right to speak just because you don’t want to hear what they have to say or disagree with them.”

Elected officials serve the public trust by example, the attorney continued.

“This doesn’t sound kosher. They aren’t serving the public trust by denying someone the right to speak. You don’t tell someone to shut up,” he said.

This isn’t about Hoefer, Sussman explained.

“We know he and Dr. Eastwood have a history. That’s not relevant to us. We want to purge the board of anyone who would deny someone’s right to free speech. It is coincidental that Mr. Hoefer is involved,” he said.

According to Sussman, the board should apologize to Hoefer and invite him back.

“The school board president didn’t know who Mr. Hoefer was until Dr. Eastwood passed him a note. That precipitated this,” Sussman said. “Dr. Eastwood should also apologize to Hoefer – and to the students who were at the meeting. There were young people there who need a lesson in the First Amendment rights. We have to let them know what the board did was wrong, you can’t deny someone’s right to free speech.”

11 Comments

  1. Is Fran going to go pout in his corner? Please save us from his mal-content. He should have never went to Middletown School District in the first place. He has got enough issues in his own School district and enough folks, again, upset with his mis-handling of confidential information. By the way, got him removed the first time he was on the Oswego Board of Education.

  2. I think it is wonderful that the Middletown community has someone like Sussman who is willing to defend someone he does not even know, at no price. Ken Eastwood is trying to set some dangerous precedents. One being that if you don’t like someone, hire Girvin & Ferlazzo and get them kicked off the board. The other being, if you don’t want to hear what someone has to say, have them arrested. I am so thankful that Oswego has emerged from his era because he approaches school superintendency in far too dictorial of a fashion. I remember upon voting in favor of Eastwood’s resignation in 2004, Fran Hoefer stated, “Oswego’s gain is Middletown’s loss,” and he is right, I feel so sorry for the people of Middletown. Eastwood does not know how to conduct himself and I wish he would just leave the school system alone because New York’s children deserve better.

  3. I am a Middletown resident. It is not a normal, everyday event for someone from another community to come to a school board meeting to use the opportunity to address. I do not fault our president for not being aware that Open Meetings Law says that opportunity to address is for residents and non-residents. As a point of information, when we address the board, we sign in, including our address.
    We do not need Mr. Hoefer’s disruption. His friends who invited him cause enough trouble.
    It is a duty and responsibility of the president to maintain order, and he may order disruptive people removed to do so. There are competing obligations at play here.

  4. Yes, just think of all those young people who may have missed an adults acting like poorly behaved child….Let’s bring them all back to witness a lesson in First Amendment rights! Check out this gem of a youtube video of Mr. Roy and his behavior as a Middletown Board member:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bD_10tyRuE&NR=1

    Is this who Mr. Hoefer is aspiring to become? He’s pretty close already.

  5. Amanda speaks out of both sides of her mouth. She’s saying NY students deserve better, but before she was advocating closing schools and packing kids like sardines into any open rooms. At least the board meetings are being video-broadcasted so the people of oswego can finally see his inane antics at board meetings.

  6. People are missing the point here.

    Whether or not Hoefer was settling a vendetta against Eastwood is irrelevant.

    Whether or not Hoefer was trying to cause trouble is irrelevant.

    What is relevant is that Eastwood had a man arrested because he was exercising his First Amendment right.

    A School Superintendent does not, can not, and should not have the unilateral authority to dictate who may speak at a public meeting.

    Public school districts are not meant to be fascist regimes. It is outrageous that Fran Hoefer was arrested for trying to speak his opinion. We are treading in dangerous waters here. If Eastwood can get away with violating the democracy this country was founded on, what’s going to stop other superintendents?

    I understand Eastwood is not particularly a fan of democracy. He feels his singular opinion should override the entire electorate. That’s why he tries to remove properly elected school board members who disagree with him. But the precedent that Superintendents can do whatever they want to violate this country’s freedoms cannot be allowed to continue.

  7. Well, from what I have read and seen about Mr. Hoefer, is that it was the Oswgo Broad of Education that removed him from the Board not Dr. Eastwood. It was the State Education Commissioner who sustained is removal, not Dr. Eastwood. It is Mr. Hoefer’s personal agenda that he seems to bring into the Oswego BOE meetings even today. There are just some not do not understand, that you are elected to School Boards to HELP the STUDENTS. Appears Middletown has a few of those personal agenda members as well!

  8. badboy1,
    The 5 board of education members who voted to remove Fran were devout followers of Ken Eastwood. They never questioned him and did everything he said. Ken Eastwood was responsible for everything behind the scenes that was involved in removing Fran. I think out of Eastwood and his 5 puppets at the time, Eastwood was the only one with enough of a brain to get a plan in motion. The combination of Eastwood’s diabolical plans and the 5 board members’ ignorance led to a very dangerous combination.

  9. Amanda,

    I suppose you believe that State Commissioner was wrong in his sustaining the removal as well. It appears your pal Fran is going down the same path, the path of removal again for his mis-guided agenda, who will you blame then?

  10. To Jerry,

    You stated that:

    “…Fran Hoefer was arrested for trying to speak his opinion.”

    I am afraid that you are factually incorrect in your assertion as Mr. Hoefer was not at anytime placed under arrest, at least not on this evening. I can not speak of what may or may not have taken place in Mr. Hoefer’s past. He was escorted to the police station and was placed in handcuffs, which in Middletown, is merely a result of protocol and police procedure.

    You are also mistaken when you say this incident was a result of Mr. Hoefer “trying to speak his opinion.” He was removed from the meeting because he twice presented himself as representing the Owsego school board. While Mr. Hoefer may indeed be a school board member, it was suspected at the time and later determined that he was present that evening pursuing his own personal agenda and not the opinion of the entire, or even a majority of the Oswego school board.

    There is one final error I wish to point out. It was not Dr. Eastwood that asked Mr. Hoefer to step away from the microphone, it was the school board president who did that for the reason I just mentioned. When he balked at the request, it was not Dr. Eastwood, it was the building’s security officer who asked that he leave the premises. Mr. Hoefer then became belligerent which resulted in having the police called in to remove him.

    In trying to keep this brief, I will not point out your other errors but I will tell you that while you may be entitled to your own opinion sir, you are not entitled to your own facts.

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