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Feb 24, 2009 4:28 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Town stands firm on not televising budget meetings

Feb 24, 2009 4:28 PM

The notion of whether or not the town’s budget advisory committee meetings should be televised became fodder for partisan debate this week, after two prominent Republicans chastised the Town Board for not agreeing to air the committee’s meetings on LTV.

The Republican candidate for supervisor, Bill Wilkinson, and Dominick Stanzione, who is considering a run for the Town Board on the Republican ticket, both told the board on Friday that they want to see the meetings televised, particularly because former Town Board member Debra Foster’s independent citizen’s budget group is airing its meetings on LTV.

“If I’m confused about the budget advisory process, I’m not the only one,” said Mr. Stanzione. “I would like to see clarification. We should shine the light of transparency on the process.”

“Finance is one of the critical foundations of the town,” said Mr. Wilkinson, adding that there is an overwhelming need for the community to hear what is going on with the budget.

Only three members of the Town Board were at Friday’s meeting. Brad Loewen and Pete Hammerle stood firm in their position that the meetings should not be televised. Julia Prince, who had just returned from vacation, said that she did not share the board’s opinion that the meetings should not be shown on television.

“I am tremendously disappointed. The whole idea of the budget advisory committee was to educate the public. I think this is a step backward,” said Ms. Prince.

Mr. Hammerle contended that the committee’s role is to advise the Town Board, not the public, and that any debate over the town’s finances should happen at the Town Board level. He also said that he did not want to set a precedent for televising committee meetings, since doing so would cost the town $350 a meeting. Though many present at the meeting said that they believed LTV would air the meeting for free, LTV producer Seth Redlus said this week that the station had not made an offer to do so.

Mr. Loewen said that he had spoken to two members of the budget committee who said that they did not want to see the meetings televised, though the committee’s chairman, Bob Kouffman, said that none of the committee’s members was opposed to televising the meetings.

“That is not the case,” he said. “We thought it would be good for the community to help to establish transparency … We’ve made our position known, and we’re not doing anything further.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Foster’s independent group is preparing for its second meeting on Friday night from 7 to 9 p.m. at the East Hampton Village Emergency Services Building on Cedar Street.

Ms. Foster had initially planned for the group to issue a white paper on its ideas for fixing the town’s finances to be presented to Town Board candidates by mid-April. After hearing that Republicans were planning to announce their candidates by St. Patrick’s Day, Ms. Foster said she now hopes to have the document prepared and ready to present to candidates by mid-March.

“I would hope this would be a public discussion throughout the election,” she said of her committee’s recommendations, though she said she had not yet approached any of the political parties about presenting the group’s suggestions to candidates.

Though some incumbents on the Town Board have said that they are not interested in hearing Ms. Foster’s committee’s report, she said that it’s for the public to decide whether the group’s opinions should be heard.

“I don’t think it’s in anybody’s interest to ignore the recommendations,” she said.

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There is no logical reason not to air these meetings. Many people in the community would be willing to sponsor them. They are just trying to hide the facts that will eventually come out anyway. The committee should have ALL financial documents they ask for & McGintee AND Hulse should be at every meeting. Meanwhile, McGintee, Hammerle & Lowen are digging themselves further in the grave. I hope Janet is honest and not afraid to speak out when the time comes. East Hampton taxpayers are counting ...more
By disappointed (96), wainscott on Feb 24, 09 9:57 PM
The great Matt Hindra filmed this meeting for me and with the invaluable resource of LTV it will be aired on channel 20 (not 22) Tues. @ 8 PM, Wed. @ 1 AM, and Sat. @ 3 PM for the next 2 weeks. It's about 3 hours long. Check out www.ltveh.org I invite you to make your own opinions about open government, cooperation, competence, etc. Others will underwrite the next meeting if the Town does not!
By John F Talmage (3), East Hampton on Feb 27, 09 2:22 PM
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