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Fireworks debate fizzles amid permit OK; Councilman alters his earlier decision

A potentially contentious debate over fireworks and free speech fizzled Wednesday after the Clarence Town Board reconsidered a local businessman's request for a fireworks show permit and, in the end, approved it.

Businessman Daniel P. Snyder was not present Wednesday night for the meeting, but a lawyer representing Snyder came armed with a First Amendment attorney in case things got explosive. They didn't, even though the board was not unanimous in its decision to approve the permit.

Early on at Wednesday's meeting, Councilman Peter DiCostanzo assured Snyder's lawyer, David J. Saleh, and the First Amendment attorney, Joseph J. Finnerty, that he planned to vote in favor of the permit request for the Labor Day event, even though DiCostanzo at the board's Aug. 3 meeting had placed a condition on that vote.

At that time, DiCostanzo had urged Snyder to remove a sign he had placed on his Newhouse Road property that read "Weiss Must Go," in reference to Councilman Joseph Weiss, who is up for re-election and with whom Snyder has been at odds.

"There's been a lot of talk about me being an opponent of free speech; that couldn't be further from the truth," DiCostanzo said at Wednesday night's meeting. "I was trying to make a point at the last meeting, which I think I did."

"We have a free speech attorney-crusader here tonight, ready to pounce, who has told me he has statements prepared to go the [Associated Press] and Reuters, if we don't do the right thing tonight. Contrary to what he says about hoping that everything will be resolved tonight cleanly, that is the furthest, furthest thing from the truth. He would love for this to further," DiCostanzo added.

In the end, he joined Town Supervisor Scott Bylewski and Councilman Bernard Kolber in voting to approve the permit request.

Councilman Patrick Casilio, as he did at the Aug. 3 meeting, recused himself, citing a prior business transaction with Snyder.

Weiss voted against granting the permit, even though Town Attorney Steve Bengart advised the board that it had no grounds for rejecting the permit.

"I feel that it's extortion, and I think that I'm being lobbied to do it, and that's why I will be voting no on this, because I think the signs were put in place to exhort me to vote in a certain fashion," said Weiss.

The permit approval for Snyder includes conditions. Partygoers will be required to park on Snyder's property, and traffic cones must be used.

Finnerty did not address the board, but after leaving the meeting, he said that national media had expressed an interest in the story.

"They have been monitoring it because of the First Amendment issues involved. It was an important matter for that reason," said Finnerty, who also works as outside counsel for The Buffalo News on First Amendment issues.

"I have always said, since I got involved in this, we were being reasonable about it, and I felt if everybody kind of thought about it and was reasonable, it would be resolved, as it has been tonight," he added.