By Claire Walla
Last Friday marked the four-week point for new Southampton Town Councilwoman Christine Preston Scalera. The Republican from Water Mill defeated Independent Party member Brad Bender in a tight race last November for an open seat on the town board.
So, what’s it been like to be at town hall for one month? The Express sat down with the councilwoman to find out.
“I know it’s only been four weeks, but it feels like it’s been four months!” exclaimed Preston Scalera who said she felt almost fully integrated into the fabric of town hall pretty early on.
As the former deputy attorney for Southampton Town and a former councilwoman in Oyster Bay, Preston Scalera said she came into town hall with certain strengths, which she said she’s already put into action.
“My background is planning and zoning,” she noted. “I would very often help people through the myriad of legislation [surrounding such things as building permits], and help them deal with different people in different departments.”
Thus, she is already assisting Councilman Chris Nuzzi in his effort to create a project development council for the town.
According to Preston Scalera, this would be a resource for residents, particularly small business owners, who are in the midst of planning or building projects. The council would advise applicants how to best complete all necessary documentation with the town in the most efficient way possible, to avoid redundancies and superfluous material.
But beyond town hall operations, the councilwoman has already demonstrated a keen interest in environmental issues, and is spearheading the effort to build an educational campaign around the town’s use of plastic bags.
“I’ve been working on that diligently,” she said. “The challenging part of that is trying to get the food industry and the other business entities, and the town’s sustainability committee all on the same page.”
While Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst had pushed efforts to adopt legislation that would effectively ban all single-use plastic bags in the town of Southampton — as has already been done in Southampton Village — Preston Scalera said there are too many interests at stake, which is why she’s helping to promote an education campaign instead.
“I think that an all-out ban, legislation, is the easy way out,” she continued. Getting people to change their habits and stop throwing away plastic bags “takes more thinking outside-the-box. You have to balance the very real goal of protecting our natural resources and minimizing the impact on the business community.”
At this point, Preston Scalera called legislation a “quick fix.” But, she said if education efforts don’t seem to work, then the town might revisit legislation.
In the same vein, Preston Scalera is also beginning to draft legislation that would create a water mitigation fund, which she said would be general enough to apply to both freshwater and coastal mitigation projects.
“It could be used for a whole host of things, like upgrades to septic systems or even projects the [Southampton Town] Trustees are working on,” Preston Scalera said of the proposed fund.
“I also want to change the code so that it would be a town-wide benefit under PDD [Planned Development District] law,” she added. In this way, any construction project that falls under PDD jurisdiction would be able to put money toward water mitigation as a “community benefit,” just like low-income housing and pine barrens restoration.
Most recently, Preston Scalera also said that she completed the rather customary cycle for new board members of official “getting to know you” conversations with town hall department heads. She expects to review their written feedback — details on plans or studies in the works, and upcoming capital projects — in the coming days.
“I want to see where there may be room for us [town board members] to step in and help, or what may need to be put on the backburner,” she explained. “Just as we’ve streamlined staffs, we have to help them run [their departments] efficiently.
“The most challenging thing is constantly looking for that balance,” she continued. “Given our economic constraints, this means [streamlining the town’s workflow] and still getting residents the services they need.”