By Marianna Levine
Bridgehampton’s May Citizens Advisory Committee meeting was packed with candidates for and members of the Bridgehampton School Board. Over the weekend there had been a flurry of emails among CAC members debating the merits of having school board candidates discuss their positions on the eve of the election.
It had been decided by CAC Chair Fred Cammann via email to cancel the candidates’ presentation. However, as people continued to arrive on Monday night, including Southampton Town Councilwoman, Anna Thorne-Holst, it became clear that Bridgehampton School families were expecting something to happen.
And it did, but only after an hour long official CAC meeting during which CAC member Ian MacPherson reported on transportation concerns, and Cammann listed off the pending application status of a number of CAC concerns such as the Ocean Road solar farm, the Bull’s Head Project, and the Gunite plant.
The only agenda items that fostered conversation were the request from the Bridgehampton National Bank for a pedestrian walkway between the bank and the new Citarella on Montauk Highway, and a continuation of the discussion the CAC had last month with Town Supervisor Linda Kabot, about the operating rules for Southampton’s appointed boards and how the local CACs can be more efficiently involved in the process.
Thorne-Holst mentioned, “I have asked Land Management to make developers’ plans available to the CACs as soon as the applications come through. The town is having a meeting on this subject tomorrow. In the past we’ve had a problem with months going by before the community and neighbors hear about a plan, and its actually not that the developers don’t want to hear from the public, its just that they don’t want to change things later when it’s too late and too expensive to do so. It’s better to get the community input early on.”
Thorne-Holst also commended the CAC for taking on the revisioning of the hamlet study themselves.
“In the past we have paid consultants to come to these meetings and listen to what people want, but this is a way to save yourselves a lot of tax dollars, and do it yourselves.”
In terms of the walkway, opinions were mixed but tended to favor not having one put near Citarella’s. In the end, discussion was tabled for further study and consideration.
At about 8 p.m., Cammann adjourned the official CAC meeting and stated, “In past years the CAC has discussed wonderfully controversial issues here and we’ve done it this way: I will call a motion to adjourn and whoever wants to stay can and we’ll have an open school board discussion.”
After a few people, including Councilwoman Throne-Holst, left, Ron White, a school board candidate and current applicant for the CAC, started the discussion by introducing himself and talking about the misconceptions many people have about the Bridgehampton School.
He sat in the front of the room along side fellow candidates Laurie Gordon, Doug DeGroot, Lillian Tyree-Johnson, and Joe Conti. (White, DeGroot and Tyree-Johnson were elected to the board on Tuesday night. See related story on page 1.) The conversation quickly became a debate on whether the high school should close. There were several emotional pleas from school families to stop debating this issue because it was unnecessarily pressuring and hurting the children.
School board member Nicky Hemby, who has four children at Bridgehampton, was close to tears when she said; “this gets emotional because you are striking at our children. You are negating what my children have achieved.”
Joe Conti insisted, “We want to put more resources into the lower grades. We can argue back and forth about what the numbers say all day.”
CAC member Jenice Delano, who has an MBA in finance, replied, “You say we could argue numbers, but I believe there is actually nothing to argue about.”
Towards the end of the discussion school parent Katherine DeGroot asked Gordon and Conti, “If elected to the school board would you work on some sort of compromise; for example we could have some sort of exchange program with kids in Sag Harbor who might want to come here and vice versa.”
Conti suggested Bridgehampton’s school building just didn’t have the space, but Gordon said, “I would actually consider that because once you’re on the board you need to consider all options. But I do think spending $75,000 per student is still a lot of money to spend. No other district spends that much.”
To which Nicky Hemby replied, “You don’t have the right numbers!”
At approximately 9 p.m. Cammann said it was time to end the discussion and go home, and although some left swiftly, others lingered to continue the contentious conversation.
In photo above, school board candidate Joe Conti (right) makes a point while fellow candidates Laurie Gordon, Lillian Tyree-Johnson and Ron White look on.