By Mara Certic
In what they say is an effort to maintain continuity and increase efficiency in East Hampton town government, Supervisor Larry Cantwell and the other members of the Town Board are seriously considering the creation of a town manager position.
Supervisor Cantwell announced during the 2015 organizational meeting last week that the board would consider the adoption of a town manager role, something several local civic organizations have researched and advocated for in the past.
The town manager would oversee the day-to-day business of the town and act as an advisor, allowing board members to focus more on legislation.
There are only a few town managers in New York. The position is more common in other states, such as New Jersey. According to Mr. Cantwell, it is equivalent to the role of village administrator, which he filled in East Hampton Village, until he became supervisor.
The village administrator and the manager position report findings to the board, but are not involved in enacting policy. The town manager would serve at the pleasure of the town board, managing all of the town departments thus giving the councilmembers more time to fulfill election promises.
“With 300 employees and a $70 million budget, with supervisors coming and going every two to four years, the management structure’s subject to change,” Mr. Cantwell said over the phone on Monday.
“The idea is to establish that continuity and improve the operations of the town,” he added.
The League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, The Group for Good Government and the East Hampton Business Alliance have all advocated for the creation of this role in the past and in 2013, the three organizations co-sponsored a forum on the topic.
“Many people erroneously believe that the town supervisor is the town’s chief executive officer. Under town law, the five-member Town Board, as a group, is the town’s chief executive officer. The supervisor is the town’s chief financial officer and is the presiding officer at Town Board meetings,” Arthur Malman, co-chair of the Group for Good Government, wrote in a release about the 2013 forum.
“Having five people act as both the legislative body and the administrative body may lead to difficulties, and the actual functioning of the Town Board will depend on the personalities of its ever-changing members. Hearing directions from five people can cause problems for town employees, and East Hampton’s Town Board has set up liaison responsibilities for its board members with varying success,” he continued.
The real aim of the creation of this position “is really to free up the supervisor to look at big picture things,” said Margaret Turner, executive director of the East Hampton Business Alliance.
Ms. Turner added that her organization believes many of the current problems within the town are a result of a lack of planning, and hopes that a town manager would allow members of the board to spend more time thinking towards the future.
“We support [this] because the role of the town council has changed and requires some administrative and financial skills that may perhaps be beyond the capabilities of some of the council members, who are elected to set policy,” Judy Samuelson, co-president of the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, said on Tuesday.
The League of Women Voters, however, will only support the creation of this position if the appointed manager is appropriately qualified and certified, Ms. Samuelson said.
“Our primary concern is the criteria for choosing town manager,” she said, adding that the appointee must be certified by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA).
“We would also like to stress that the town manager has no political affiliation, nor does the manager set policy,” she said. “It’s a position outside the council not subject to the vagaries of the election,” she added.
Ms. Turner agreed that it cannot be a political appointment.
“One thing you really want to do is keep politics out of it and put in the best candidate for the position,” she said, adding that her ideal candidate would have experience in the role of town manager as well as a background in both government and business.
Mr. Cantwell would not provide details about specific responsibilities or duties of the new role, or of potential candidates.
“We are in the process of putting that together and in the next few months we’ll have a specific proposal,” he said.
According to Mr. Cantwell, the proposal will require a public hearing before any vote can take place.