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Sag Harbor CAC Attendance Wanes

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Claire Walla

If you haven’t been to a Sag Harbor Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting recently, you’re not alone. Attendance at the community meetings has waned in recent months, last Sunday playing host to just two attendees — one of whom was the co-chair leading the meeting.

The duo briefly discussed issues affecting Southampton Town, as is a CAC’s purview, like the amount of nitrogen seeping into local waterways and a new proposal from Councilman Chris Nuzzi to create a committee to expedite the permitting process for builders and small business owners.

But with such a small audience, the meeting was mostly just informative.

“I’d like to grow,” Judah Mahay said of CAC attendance.

According to Mahay, co-chair of the CAC, the group technically has five active members. However, since February the meetings have only garnered two or three members (including the two co-chairs). The most populous meeting — in April — attracted a crowd of seven, and featured a speaker from the Quiet Skies Coalition who discussed the issue of helicopter noise.

At this point, he added, his main issue is building a core group of members. “We’re being proactive for community involvement,” he said.

Part of the CAC slow-down has to do with the fact that the organization is in a redevelopment process, explained co-chair John Linder.

“Clearly, we’re in a period of transition,” said Linder, who is prepping Mahay to take on the role in its entirety in 2013. Linder and Mahay officially became co-chairs this past February. “At this point, we’re just taking it month-to-month.”

The mission of all local CACs is to keep abreast and weigh in on issues affecting those areas that lie outside village jurisdiction, but within Southampton Town’s. At last Sunday’s meeting, Mahay explained to his one guest that the Sag Harbor CAC’s main priority at the moment is “being proactive to gain community involvement.”

Mahay himself is taking steps to give the CAC much more of a presence in the community, which includes giving the organization an online presence.

“We’ve thought about ways to bring people to the CAC, to not only show up, but to participate in the community,” Mahay continued. He mentioned setting up an information booth outside the library to explain what the organization is all about, in addition to creating an interactive website for the CAC.

Mahay said the website will include all the minutes from CAC meetings, as well as all letters drafted on behalf of CAC members that are sent to the town board or local publications. He expects the website to be up and running before the organization’s next meeting, July 8.

While Linder explained that a couple active CAC members are actually summer residents who have not yet arrived, some wonder whether the low attendance has to do with the current time slot: Sunday afternoons at 1:30 p.m.

CAC member Eric Cohen regularly attended meetings until they were switched from Friday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. to their current Sunday time slot.

“That’s the entire reason for me,” Cohen said, explaining why he no longer attends meetings. Plus, he said the issues in the greater Sag Harbor community are not as crucial as they were a few years ago.

CACs were established about 15 years ago so that areas in Southampton Town without a localized government could have a much stronger connection to the town board. The Bridgehampton CAC, for example, has a relatively high attendance rate because the hamlet has a significant population with issues that cannot be addressed locally.

Because Sag Harbor is an incorporated village, the Sag Harbor CAC is technically responsible for the areas of the greater Sag Harbor community on the Southampton side of town that do not fall within village jurisdiction. This includes Ligonee Creek to the south, and part of the Long Pond Greenbelt.

The most significant issue the CAC has dealt with in recent years was the push for a Sag Harbor Gateway Study along the Sag Harbor/Bridgehampton Turnpike, which essentially limits development in that area.

“The area we’re representing is small and there isn’t a lot of controversy right now,” said Cohen. “We used to have a much larger membership, with people who really knew how to speak up [for Sag Harbor issues in town board meetings]. But, with membership shrinking, there are fewer of us to get out there.”

For Linder, the greater Sag Harbor area will continue to see issues, whether it’s water quality or traffic on Noyac Road (Noyac, by the way, has its own CAC). But, the longevity of the Sag Harbor CAC will be left to the will of the people.

“If people see the value in it, some will come forward and participate,” he said. “If not, it will go by the wayside.” But, he continued, “the issues will remain.”

From Rafts to Pirates to the Sag CAC, Local Org. Gets A New Co-Chair

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Judah adjusted

By Claire Walla


He’s led white-water-rafting expeditions in Alaska, taught sailing while dressed as a pirate in Chicago and lived abroad in Japan. And now, 31-year-old Judah Mahay is on his way to becoming the new chairman of the Sag Harbor Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) to the Town of Southampton.

“I love different cultures and I love different places,” said Mahay, who was born and raised in Alaska and lived near Stony Brook before moving to the Sag Harbor area about a year-and-a-half ago when his wife was hired to work at the Water Mill Center.

When asked how his experience on the East End has been thus far, Mahay submitted to a wide grin.

“It’s been interesting,” he said. “There’s a large population of Latino cultures, then there’s the juxtaposition between the people who are farmers and the individuals who use this as a second home, and those who have retired out here. It makes for a very interesting dynamic.”

Of his new role with the CAC, he said, “I’ve always kind of had that approach of bringing people together to inspire some type of community interaction.”

Back in high school, Mahay noted this knack was manifested in his single-handedly forming a competitive hockey team. Although, he added, “As I’ve gotten older, it’s been less along the lines of entertainment and more along the lines of political issues.”

Recently, Mahay said he’s focused his attention on grass-roots organizing efforts like No Label and Americans Elected.

Mahay has thus far participated in local politics from the sidelines, attending a smattering of both CAC and Southampton Town board meetings in the past year. This is his first full-blown foray into the local political scene.

Mahay’s new role was officially announced at the CAC’s first meeting of the New Year last Sunday, January 12, when current chair John Linder explained his reasons for passing on the torch.

“I’ve done it for a long time,” said Linder, who has been at the helm of the organization for five years, even though he lives full-time in Manhattan. “It was always kind of ridiculous, because I’m not here during the week.”

The two men will officially serve as co-chairs for the remainder of 2012 while Linder shows his successor the ropes. Already, Mahay is looking forward to his new role.

“I would love to see the Sag Harbor CAC [evolve] in the fashion of what it is now: representative of the community’s voice,” he explained. “But, certain actions need to be taken in order to gauge the community’s voice. And that involves outreach.”

Sitting at a small round table inside the John Jermain Library’s temporary space on West Water Street, Mahay and Linder discussed the need to grow the CAC with the only other CAC member in attendance that day, Valerie Justin.

“I think people know we exist, but they just don’t know what we do,” Linder said.

To try to increase participation, he suggested setting up tables where CAC members would be stationed, ready to initiate one-on-one conversations with people interested in joining, or even learning more about the CAC.

Justin suggested the group reach out to Moveon.org, a politically motivated grassroots organization that — despite having national influence — has a strong presence in local communities.

“I think it’s a goldmine!” she stated. “These people [Moveon.org members] are used to being politically active.”

Mahay said he would look into forging a connection with the organization. And, in the vein of digital endeavors, he expressed an interest in creating a website for the Sag Harbor CAC, which currently has no online presence, and putting together an up-to-date (electronic) mailing list. He even spoke of activating a Twitter account for the local organization.

At the request of both Linder and Justin, Mahay will present a model of this proposed website at the CAC’s next meeting: Sunday, March 11 at 1:30 p.m.

“My long-term goals are to be as engaged in the community as I can,” Mahay continued. “Maybe 10 years down the road I’ll run for public office and make that my full time job [Mahay currently works at Chase Bank in East Hampton] — I can’t imagine a better thing to do with my time.”

“I always knew that I wanted to make my primary function in life to help people,” he added. “And whether it’s trying to help someone reduce their mortgage payments, or it’s public office, it’s the same root aspiration. It’s just that in one scenario you’re doing more to affect change.”