Tag Archive | "committees"

Southampton Town Proposes Political Party Ban for Committee Members

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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.

Are There Too Many Committees?

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When new Sag Harbor school superintendent Dr. John Gratto was handed a list of board of education sponsored committees, 16 in total, he scratched his head. Never had he seen a list of so many committees in his career as a superintendent.
“I thought that it must have been a very involved board of education,” he said on Wednesday. “I think that if the board and the public believe they are getting thorough information about issues, then there may be less of a need to have all of those committees. I think it’s prudent of the board to take a look at those committees and decide which are essential and which are nonessential.”
The board began to do just that last Monday at a work session. The majority of the committees are mandated, such as shared-decision committees, a health and wellness committee and an audit committee. But there are also a number of non-mandated committees and on Monday the board voted unanimously to dissolve two and discussed narrowing the scope, or charge, of another. The district will no longer have an athletics advisory committee or a personnel committee. As for the other, the budget advisory committee (BAC), discussion ensued over whether to eliminate it.
“I think there’s a universal agreement that [last year the BAC] did not work very well],” said board president Walter Wilcoxen.
Board member Sue Kinsella disagreed, “Because you had more representatives of different segments of the school district it in the community, you didn’t have four people with like minds forming all the decisions.”
Until last year the BAC consisted of a small number of community members with different backgrounds. Their charge was to evaluate and analyze the budget as presented and make recommendations. At the last budget meeting of the year they advised the board on the budget based on their analysis of the numbers.
But last year the board made the decision to expand the BAC and include more members from different parts of the community. One of those members was newly elected board member Mary Anne Miller. The BAC was also given a new charge of gathering data and meeting with administrators.
“I made every meeting but one,” began Miller. “After we made our recommendations early on, we continued to talk about what the board could do with contract negations, which we had no say on. But that’s all we talked about.”
Miller said they didn’t receive the information the board had intended to provide them, such as benchmarking, until the budget process was nearly over, and that the administrators never attended the meetings because they were apprised of them.
“They were apprised of them, just couldn’t make them,” said Kinsella.
Board member Ed Haye pointed out the BAC had been successful in the past because their analysis included administrator’s input. Haye said the biggest accomplishment of the BAC over the past three years was getting the district to move to zero-based-budgeting and the question arose whether the BAC was even needed anymore.
Haye said the recommendations from last year’s BAC were helpful
“We made them early on and then after that all we did was argue,” said Miller
The idea arose that perhaps the BAC’s new charge should be simply to attend the budget workshops and ask questions and then report back to the community as liaisons. Gratto asked why that would be any different from a regular community member doing the same thing.
Wilcoxen suggested the BAC had perhaps outgrown its charge and Gratto brought up the idea of eliminating the committee all together.
Wilcoxen mentioned the difficulty in giving such a group a specifically defined charge.
“It’s very hard to define that group of people,” he said “Some people want to limit everything, others want to open everything up.”
Board members Dan Hartnett and Theresa Samot both agreed that the BAC should remain in some fashion. Hartnett suggested they should perhaps meet less frequently but focus on one issue such as benchmarking. Samot pointed out the successful passing of the last budget and attributed it to the BAC.
“I’m a little bit leery of taking that away,” said Samot. “It will end up being interpreted as we don’t need their input.”

Top Photo: Ed Haye, Theresa Samot and Wes Frye at Monday’s board of education meeting.