The third female supervisor in town history recalls her lack of political ambitions just a few years ago, her 13-point plan for shaping up town government and the difficulties she faces as an independent candidate who was endorsed by the Democrats, and will be working with a Republican majority town board.
Before becoming a councilwoman, your background was in education with the inception of Hayground School and not-for-profits like the Bridgehampton Child Care Center. Did you expect back then that you’d one day run for office?
I never expected to run for anything. It certainly wasn’t an ambition I had. I am interested in policy and policy making. I am interested in national and international policy, but I certainly also followed local policy and government. I never thought I was going to sit there myself. I didn’t think two years ago that I was going to be a supervisor. I was asked to run by a number of people early on after last year’s election. I was asked by the Democratic committee and several others to consider it. At the time, I wasn’t thinking about it. I had been in office for less than a year. I think those who encouraged me felt I brought a different tone and that I had been a pretty proactive board member at the time. I think they were paying attention to the fact that I wasn’t there for the politics. I was there to coalition build. During that time I was just doing my day-to-day council work. More and more I had thoughts about how things could be done differently. So then, I started to think about running a little more seriously. I felt compelled to move a different agenda forward.
During the campaign, you presented a 13-point plan for changing things in Southampton Town Hall. Could you explain the main points of your 13-point plan?
It is based on classic strategic planning. You look at a number of goals you have and work backward in how you organize and implement them. The points look at how we should do things differently. It [the plan] looks at everything from how you organize departments to how you provide services. How do you do it better and more cost effectively — things like the planning process to how town board meetings and work sessions work?
Some of the points include putting together task forces. One example is the police department. I would like to put together a labor management commission where members of the public with experience related to the police and other emergency public safety areas would meet on a monthly basis. They would look at what is and what isn’t working. We have some big issues to deliberate. Should we switch to 12-hour tours [of working less shifts but for longer hours]? Looking at an issue from different vantage points is essential is assisting us [the town board].
I think that town government can benefit from looking at the private sector model and where most good corporations are in the habit of constantly looking at how they provide their services. We also budget on a yearly basis — it’s short term and short sighted. That is another one of the points to look at — the budget process at least three years [down the road].
The whole idea that a preliminary budget is presented by the supervisor to me is an antiquated notion. The deliberating and inclusion process needs to be a very different one.
What changes did you make to the 2010 budget?
I changed the way the supervisor’s office is staffed and the level at which it is funded [by decreasing spending by about $90,000]. I changed the way public safety is managed. I reinstated what I thought were crucial positions in the youth services and senior services departments. I rearranged the housing authority. Land management and building inspections will now do Section 8 inspections as well as some code enforcement. They will be doing a little double duty, which is a cost savings solution. I made sure Betty, who sits at our front reception desk, was reinstated.
How were you able to reinstate some of these positions and still balance the budget?
I think the $90,000 out of the supervisor’s office was a pocket of substantial cost saving. We had seven people who responded to the early retirement incentive. My goal next year is to look at that incentive more proactively. You have to understand that the incentive in the end has a cost savings for the town. One of the things I am working on is an incentive package that is tiered and geared toward years of service. The more years of service the better the incentive. This is geared towards higher paying and managerial level positions. The goal in my mind is to save within the $600,000 range. I am hoping to effectuate this in the first six months [of next year]. But this is dependent on some willing cooperation. I don’t want to force anyone out that isn’t ready to go.
What are going to be the challenges facing Southampton Town in the coming year?
I think my biggest goal is to really show this town that we can put politics aside and we can coalition build and manage by consensus. I think the people of Southampton want and are looking for that. The challenge for me as a supervisor is to provide the leadership and encourage my colleagues to be willing participants. The challenge there is to change what I call some bad habits. I think there haven been some bad political habits. I think the work of trying to consensus build is really spending time talking things out and finding common ground.
Rather than saying I am going to put a resolution on the floor, I hope people are going to talk to everyone before they do that. I would like to get out of the habit of using walk on resolutions as swords. Instead of saying “Can I get all five members to agree to this,” it is often the case of “well what can I take credit for and I want my name to be on and my name only.” It becomes vying for political capital, instead of asking “How best can I serve the town?” Not that the initiatives are bad ones, but I hope they ask “how can I get everyone on board.”
Do you feel like it will be difficult to not only consensus build but get your ideas off the ground with a Republican board majority?
I hope not. I will certainly stay as focused and optimistic and keep that as my goal throughout to the best of my ability. And I hope that for people who jumped on the band wagon [of working across party lines], it is a matter of not just walking the walk but talking the talk. I hope all eyes will be on us.
Because you won the supervisor’s race your seat on the town board will be vacant until a special election is held in the spring of 2010. Do you hope that Democratic party hopeful, and Noyac resident, Bridget Fleming will again run for a seat on the board?
I haven’t spoken to her because she has been on vacation, but I certainly hope she considers it. It is tough to get back up again after something like that. It is hard to picture what the election is going to be like and what voter turn out is going to be like. The turn out for the general election was low. I think only 22 percent of registered Democrats in the town voted. The Democratic committee really needs to get voters to the poll. That is the hard thing to do no matter what candidate you are.
Her job is going to be a difficult one. It is hard to get up your energy for something like another race. And it also is only for a half term. But I hope that she considers it and I know that she promised that she would think about it.