One of the many benefits in advancements of technology—and there are numerous downsides—is the fact that as a populace we have never had so many resources at our fingertips.
In terms of fostering transparency in local government or in school districts, there are no bounds in what can be accomplished to inform an electorate in the digital age. From up-to-date draft agendas, to online videos and schematics, the Town of Southampton, in particular, has truly begun to tap into this ability to share information with the public. We believe local governments and school districts alike should be investing in providing a similar level of service. Many are lacking, just beginning to scratch the surface, and we understand funding and grappling with what is a new concept for many administrators are difficult hurdles to clear.
However, when a local government official has the capability to communicate with the public — and its own board members — and openly chooses not to do so, flies in the face of what we believe is a responsibility of our elected officials.
In East Hampton Town, work session agendas are unavailable to the public — and to some board members — until after a meeting is held. They are not posted on the town’s website, which carries agendas and streaming video, until after the fact. This week there was no agenda at all. Board members, justifiably frustrated, were told by Supervisor Bill Wilkinson that the meeting was to be spontaneous. When they protested, an argument ensued with the supervisor in essence stating, because he is not legally required to post an agenda, it is his right at the helm of the board to run the work session in whatever fashion he chooses.
While not allowing board members the ability to prepare themselves for a work session is unfair and counterproductive, what Supervisor Wilkinson has also done is make it impossible for residents to attend meetings when an issue they care about will be up for debate. This prevents residents from weighing in, on the record, and stifles a diverse discussion.
It’s a disservice to the residents of East Hampton — period. Fortunately, as Supervisor Wilkinson reminded board members Tuesday, this is a disservice we will only have to live with for another five months.