October 22, 2021

Dryden probes meeting disruption

DRYDEN — Town officials said this week they are working with the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office to investigate the disruption of a virtual comprehensive plan meeting on Wednesday, when the meeting was hacked and racial epithets were drawn on screen.

The virtual meeting was the third of three planned discussions for updating the town’s comprehensive plan, Deputy Town Supervisor Dan Lamb said Friday. No issues had occurred in the first two.

About an hour into the meeting, some attendants became unruly because they were opposed to the plan and started posting threats in the meeting’s chat section.

Things escalated as users took control and wrote phrases like “Stop the Steal” — a claim made by some supporters of former President Donald Trump that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump — and racial epithets.

“There are some pretty sad people out there who want to advance a racist agenda we don’t want here in Dryden,” Lamb said.

The meeting ended following that and has been rescheduled to Feb. 10.

“The Town of Dryden firmly believes that diversity makes our community stronger,” Supervisor Jason Leifer and Lamb said in a joint statement Thursday. “The more there is, the better. We strive to be an inclusive environment, and we welcome all people regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, disability, gender identity or sexual orientation.”

The statement condemned the incident.

“Everyone in Dryden has a fundamental right to feel respected and safe in this community,” the statement read. “While that right was briefly challenged last night, we shall make every effort to ensure that it never happens again. The town deeply regrets this incident and the pain it has caused to our community. We are also taking efforts to track down those involved in this incident and have been in touch with law enforcement.”

Lamb said he could not tell who participated in the disruption but noted some people changed their user names once accepted into the meeting. One member, for example, switched from a generic name to Serial Killer.

The town is working with Environmental Design and Research, the consulting firm that had the meeting, to tighten security for future meetings, Lamb said.

This will include preventing anyone but the host from taking control of the ability to add notes on screen and preventing user names from being changed once a person has entered. “We’re going to be very quick to kick people off,” should disruptions happen, Lamb said.

Details on the rescheduled comprehensive plan meeting will be posted on the town’s website, www.dryden.ny.us, and on the comprehensive page website, www.dryden2045.org.