Southampton Town Proposes Political Party Ban for Committee Members

Posted on 30 January 2014

By Tessa Raebeck

Hoping to stem what she sees as unbalanced Republican influence, Southampton Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming has again sponsored legislation to bar members of a political committee from also serving on the town’s land use boards.

After discovering last year that 10 out of the 21 members on the three influential boards, the planning board, the zoning board of appeals (ZBA) and the conservation board, were members of either the Republican or the Conservative Party committees, Fleming sponsored a resolution to ban members of such a committee from also serving on a board.

“I think,” Fleming said Monday, “it’s a really important measure to advance fairness in land use decisions and to make sure that people in the community feel that all voices are being heard and that land use decisions are being made in a fair and even handed way.”

Both East Hampton and Southold have similar legislation in effect. The resolution would require a political committee member who also wished to serve on a town board to resign from their political post for the time they serve as a board member.

Fleming believes the law would limit the “lopsided representation” of the current boards, noting out of seven members on the ZBA in 2013, five were Republican committee members and one was a Conservative committee member.

There are no members of the Democratic Committee on the town boards, Fleming said Monday

The law, she said, is “in order to open up public participation, so people feel that it’s not an insider’s game, that they can serve, that they can have their voices heard.”

“And,” she added, “in order to remove any conflict of interest that’s created when people are responsible both to the community and to their political parties.”

Fleming first introduced the bill last spring, but it was blocked from having a public hearing. She introduced it again this fall and although it was granted a public hearing, the bill was defeated September 24 by the then Republican-Conservative majority on the board.

At the public portion of the board’s meeting October 8, Mike Anthony of Westhampton, a member of the Democratic activist organization Organizing for America, spoke in support of the resolution, stating that many see government as an insider game and that people in Southampton cannot be part of local government without feeling they have to also be part of a political party.

Also at that meeting, George Lynch of Quogue said the Republican majority on public boards is trampling on proper procedures and stifling public discussion. Residents Dianne Rulnick, Mike Axelrad, Sally Pope and several others called on the board to have a public hearing on the ethics of removing political committee members from land use boards.

On Tuesday, the board hosted a public hearing on the proposal. While supporters voiced their concerns over lopsided legislation and perceived unfairness, opponents said the bill would discourage residents from participating in government and inhibit free speech.

Republican Party committee member Bill Hughes voiced his opposition to the bill at Tuesday’s hearing, saying it limited “freedom of association” and that being elected to a political party committee is a form of free speech.

Republican Councilwoman Christine Scalera has been vocal in her opposition to the bill since it was first introduced. Scalera has called the legislative intent offensive and questioned Fleming’s political motives behind introducing such a bill on Tuesday.

Despite Scalera’s opposition, Fleming is hopeful the bill will move forward and that it will be passed at the next town board meeting February 11.

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3 Responses to “Southampton Town Proposes Political Party Ban for Committee Members”

  1. Patrick O'Connor says:

    Chronologically this seemed to be first coverage. Some info has been conveniently ommitted. What a shock. Councilwoman Fleming still cannot give an example of undue political influence on those boards, purpose cited for proposal. Article listed all supporters that spoke to Town Council, but only one opponent was mentioned, Bill Hughes. Did reporter covering meeting miss others who spoke, opposing this, including myself? Did reporter miss vocal opposition from Judge Weber? He was the first person to address Coucil on issue that night. No questions I asked are answered in this article. Who benefits from proposal and why? Close “friends” of Bridget explained why they support these limits on free speach. Unfortunately none of these reasons applied to me. What did I do wrong? Why should I be punished?

  2. SHNative says:

    It is well known that the best way to get land use permits, one should hire certain people with connection to the Southampton Town boards.
    No one is being “punished”. Let’s let others have freedom of speech maybe someone who is not connected with the Southampton Town Republican Committee.
    If you are a committeeman you should not sit on a land use board.
    I like the proposed law!

  3. Patrick O'Connor says:

    SHNative (if that is your real name)
    Maybe you don’t consider something punishment as long as you are not the one being punished. Even our Town Supervisor pointed out during meeting that the Town Council is more diverse that it has ever been. Councilwoman Fleming cannot wait for demographic of those willing to sit on boards to change with changing shifting population moving to East End. If someone dislikes GOP on boards, then get more non-GOP to volunteer. Don’t limit those willing to serve. Throughout proceedings perceptions have been cited as motivating factor without a single hard example that proposal fixes. Speaking of perceptions, this gives impression that something else motivates those in favor of proposal. Currently I am neither a committee member nor do I serve on any board. But if law passes it will limit my opportunity to be heard on any of these bodies. THAT is a punishment that I have done NOTHING to deserve. If your point is so well known, then show courage and name names, including your own. Careful though. Liebel has weel known consequences, too. As a matter of principle, I would seek committee membership just for opportunity to challenge this in court.

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