By Georgia Suter
Promising more open governments and more aggressive planning for the future, the newly elected supervisors for Southampton and East Hampton towns addressed a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons on Monday evening. Centrally located for both towns at the Unitarian Universalist Meetinghouse on the Sag Harbor-Bridgehampton Turnpike, the forum was intended to give the public a chance to hear how the two leaders will work to revamp their respective governments which have been battered by economic challenges.
Bill Wilkinson, who was elected East Hampton town supervisor in early November, was the first to speak, focusing on his administration’s agenda during his first sixty days in office. Among top priorities, Wilkinson noted that he plans to bring more transparency to the administration.
“The first thing I’m going to try to do is live up to a campaign commitment of open government,” he stated, adding that very little will actually be rehearsed at the administration’s board meetings. Wilkinson also emphasized the importance of bringing more participation from the community into the town’s meetings, noting in the future at least one work session a month will be held on a Saturday in order to allow the participation of a majority of East Hampton community members that are weekend homeowners.
“The most important thing that I’m addressing on a day to day basis is the $28 million dollar deficit, it’s a daily problem,” he noted. Wilkinson did touch upon problems with the former administration’s financial choices, noting they failed to categorize the allocation of funds appropriately, which resulted in an “intermingling of funds.” Wilkinson’s administration is now in the process of looking more closely at past expenditures to determine how much money was allocated to various projects, such as the Community Preservation Fund and the renovation project of East Hampton’s town hall.
Moving into notable accomplishments for the new administration, Wilkinson noted that East Hampton Town and the East Hampton Police Benevolent Association reached an agreement on a six-year contract spanning from 2007 to 2012, in the first days of being in office. The agreement was reached after a five-hour bargaining session with Wilkinson, P.B.A. representatives and the arbitrator in late February. In terms of community outreach efforts, the town has also been making steps to build more conversation and interaction with East Hampton residents. Wilkinson explained the town is reaching out to the artist community to build stronger relationships with artists because “they’ve been ignored.” Additionally, the town recently held a forum to discuss the best ways to manage the local deer population. The forum brought community members together from deer refuge and animal rights groups, hunting groups and from the wildlife preservation. Wilkinson concluded his remarks by reiterating perhaps his most pressing agenda for the coming term; “it’s finance, finance, finance for the next sixty days.”
Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst started by noting that “Bill and I share an enthusiasm for the job, and an enthusiasm for doing it differently.” Throne-Holst began by dividing her administration’s agenda into two categories: partnerships and planning. She explained she hopes to “open up and partner with the community in bringing an agenda forward,” adding that immediate responsiveness of the board is also going to be a top priority.
“Whatever your issue is, we will get back to you in 24 hours,” she promised.
In attempt to bring the community into the day to day processes of the town, Throne-Holst noted that “We’ve invited different community groups that represent various parts of the town into our meetings, to meet with us.”
She also expressed the importance of planning and of communication and collaboration between different areas of the East End: “What’s happening in Hampton Bays may be helpful to something that is going on in Sag Harbor.”
At a recent luncheon with the mayor of East Hampton, Throne-Holst said they began talking about sharing services between East End municipalities, such as purchasing for highway needs. “We’re working on changing the paradigm under which municipalities plan,” she stated.
Among specific agenda items for future months, Throne-Holst stated the town will be putting together a planning reform group, organizing different advisory committees such as the Green Committee for Sustainability, and revamping the budget and finance committee so that it has improved goals–among them, devising a more organic budget proposal and a more detailed revenue projection. She also described the proposed organization of a police management committee, which will work to alleviate the years of disagreement between the top level of police management and the working level.
Among notable achievements for the Town for Southampton is a revamped website that has a more inclusionary feel. Community members can view current issues the town board is working on. The site also has information for the community such as the location of recycling centers, and there’s an online forum which provides a place for open and ongoing discussion.
“Our goal is really to revamp how the town does business with the public,” said Throne-Holst.