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Jan 29, 2014 12:09 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Political Affiliations Among Southampton Town's Regulatory Boards Questioned Again

Jan 29, 2014 12:09 PM

The Southampton Town Board this week again hashed out the idea of barring election committee members of local political parties from serving on appointed regulatory boards to avoid the possibility, or appearance, that political affiliations can win favoritism before them.

Despite a new Democratic-Independence majority that stands poised to be able to force through the new regulation, which would most widely affect Republican party members on the boards in coming years, there was not clear support for the proposal on Tuesday night.

Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming has proposed the limitation three times now. In her first attempt last spring the bill was blocked from even having a public hearing and, the second time, it was killed in the fall by the former Republican-Conservative majority on the board following a public debate.

The third time around on Tuesday, Ms. Fleming heard familiar criticism of the bill: That it would stifle free speech and discourage community-minded residents from coming forward to serve on boards.

“Freedom of association is the right to join elite groups of one’s choosing,” said Bill Hughes, a Republican Party committeeman, saying that the proposed restriction would rob voters of the right to choose their representatives. “Being elected a committee person for a political party is a form of free speech. A committee person is the spokesman of the voters in a district.”

Likewise, Ms. Fleming’s responses were familiar: That there has long been a perception that one’s political registration was either a roadblock or a free pass to regulatory approvals from the town’s sub-boards. She again cited the Zoning Board of Appeals, which hands out or withholds the permission slips to escape zoning restrictions necessary for many house expansions. Until this week, six of the seven members of the zoning board served on the election committees of the Republican or Conservative parties.

“We simply cannot ignore the stream of people that we’ve had stand up and say there is a perception that there is an insider’s game,” Ms. Fleming said, echoing impressions shared by members of the audience at Tuesday night’s Town Board meeting. “I know I was criticized for bringing this forward when there was a Republican majority on this board. There is no longer a Republican majority on this board. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

Councilwoman Christine Scalera, a Republican who has been Ms. Fleming’s most strident foil on the measure, questioned the consistency of her Democratic counterpart’s application of her beliefs on the issue. Ms. Fleming voted earlier in the evening to appoint a member of the Democratic Party’s committee, John Bouvier, to the Conservation Board while voting against the reappointments of John Zuccarelli, a Republican Party committeeman, to the Planning Board, and Brian Desesa, a Conservative Party committeeman, to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

“While I appreciate the consistency of your positions, it’s the inconsistency of your actions I question,” Ms. Scalera said.

“I made my decision based on individual candidates,” Ms. Fleming countered, noting that she had voted in favor of reappointing Tom Rickenbach, a Republican Party committeeman, to the Conservation Board.

Ms. Scalera said that Ms. Fleming seemed to be placing too much weight on the ability of board members to act with bias and said there was a distinct lack of evidence that such a thing takes place.

“The way the land use boards are set up ... they do not have the discretionary power to make decisions on whims or this pressure they are supposedly receiving that there has been no evidence of,” she argued.

Ms. Fleming noted that the zoning board, in particular, does have broad discretion and has been the source of the most concerns about favoritism—anecdotal evidence of which seemed to come mostly from those who moved to the area and were told by others that one better be registered as a Republican if they want to secure approval for work on their house.

Whether such collusion was ever present or not, the simple suggestion that it is, when coupled with the nearly complete control of the board by Republican Party operatives, was enough to warrant the board taking action to remove at least one leg of the impression, Ms. Fleming said. She also noted that both East Hampton and Southold towns have adopted similar restrictions on board members.

Ms. Throne-Holst said that removing such impressions of potential improper influences in government has been a priority of her agenda. She also noted that the boards, the zoning board in particular, were evolving with the town political landscape, which is far less lopsided than it once was.

“What may have happened in the [1970s] may have happened,” Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said, nodding to an era when Southampton was ruled almost completely by the Republican Party. “[As public officials] we all have a responsibility to assure ourselves that we are serving regardless of our affiliations. We have a sworn duty.

“I juxtapose that to ... the responsibility to deal with perceptions,” she continued. “Therein lies my dilemma with this. It’s a very important issue for us to be deliberating.”

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Mr. Hughes is quoted:

“Freedom of association is the right to join elite groups of one’s choosing,” said Bill Hughes, a Republican Party committeeman, saying that the proposed restriction would rob voters of the right to choose their representatives. “Being elected a committee person for a political party is a form of free speech. A committee person is the spokesman of the voters in a district.”

Note the word "elite" first, then the incorrect statement ...more
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Jan 29, 14 2:55 PM
3 members liked this comment
I support Councilperson Fleming's resolution. The recent campaign season saw alot of promises made for transparency on both sides. This is a chance to back up those promises. If, as Councilperson Scalera and Supervisor ATH claim, there is no evidence of corruption, then there should be no reason for them not to support this proposal. Resigning your committee position is an option to be explored ahead of time if you choose to commit to one of the 3 boards involved. One can still be active politically, ...more
By EastEndJoy (16), East Quogue on Jan 29, 14 3:58 PM
Then you would agree that the Town Ethic Code should be amended to provide a provision requiring the Supervisor and Councilpersons to recuse themselves with regard to any resolution, local law, etc. which is to the benefit or detriment of any of their individual, partnership or corporate campaign finance committee contributors.

Certainly if we are to play the perception game, the pay to play perception should be eliminated.

Then again were we to play the perception game how would ...more
By NTiger (543), Southampton on Jan 29, 14 4:14 PM
2 members liked this comment
Well said Neil ! Are you sure we were on opposite sides ?
By ernest wruck (10), eastport on Jan 29, 14 7:14 PM
1 member liked this comment
Didn't the Supervisor change the make up of the ZBA for "Political Balance?"

By The Real World (368), southampton on Jan 30, 14 8:38 AM
Well, Neil, I'm ALL for further ethics reform; but unless this passes how do you propose getting any further ones passed?? George Lynch publicly supported the resolution on Tues. night, so I doubt he'd feel as if he were being "punished'. (For the record, ATH abstained from the vote on that "family and friend".) Why not take the extra step that both Easthampton and Southold have taken to prevent that long standing perception we speak about? Doesn't Southampton deserve it? It will benefit us far ...more
By EastEndJoy (16), East Quogue on Jan 31, 14 4:40 PM
2 members liked this comment
East Hampton is 2 words. I'll keep saying it until people learn how to spell.
By ArthurVandelay (8), on Feb 2, 14 12:31 PM
I don't agree that there is either a perception or reality that being on a committee biases or prejudices an individual from serving on any of the 3 named Boards.

I also believe as long as elected officials employees or relatives or friends can be appointed you haven't really accomplished the stated goal and purpose,

So you can appoint committee person spouses, children, parents, etc. but not committee persons themselves. I find that a bit hypocritical

What I propose ...more
By NTiger (543), Southampton on Jan 31, 14 6:03 PM
I'm still curious what perceived "power" a political committeeperson actually has. This is not the 70s. The primary roles of elected committee people today are to assist in choosing candidates for Elected Office that espouse the beliefs and behaviors of their political party and help to get them elected, and to be the "eyes and ears" of their election district to pass along constituent concerns and problems within the district to the appropriate Town Official, Board or Department to remedy them. ...more
By ArthurVandelay (8), on Feb 2, 14 7:44 AM
" Eliminate the ability to buy votes by requiring abstentions where campaign contributors are involved and eliminate wilson-pakulas and cross endorsements. "
YES. YES. A thousand times YES.

Art Vandelay: East Hampton. I know. When you live in Southampton, you sometimes quickly type Easthampton. I'm only human, not a Super-architect.
By EastEndJoy (16), East Quogue on Feb 3, 14 1:42 AM
Another nail on the coffin of the laughable Dem Exec Committee idea that there is now a "Democratic majority" on the Town Board. Bridget can continue to propose Democratic non-political ideas till she's blue in the face for legislation that will always be DOA. Kudos to her for never giving up, and the base understands all too well.

I think it is far fetched to suggest that barring political committee operatives in serving in regulatory boards prevents well meaning committee members from ...more
By Obbservant (449), southampton on Feb 3, 14 4:44 AM
1 member liked this comment
Then you would agree the best way to protect the public with necessary checks and balances from moneyed interests intent on circumventing community interests is to require elected officials from is to enact a provision in the Town Ethic Code requiring officials to recuse themselves with regard to any resolutions, local laws, etc. to which one of their campaign finance committee contributors has a stake in (either pro or con).

By the way a committee persons primary function these days is ...more
By NTiger (543), Southampton on Feb 3, 14 5:26 PM
I strongly agree with you that it is necessary for elected officials to pass a provision in the Town Ethics code to require elected officials to recuse themselves regarding Resolutions and laws in which one of their political contributors has a stake, a position I have always taken. It's a no brainer at the root of Town corruption endemic in the local culture, and they consider it just perfectly normal. Many powerless citizens simply shrug their shoulders seemingly resigned to these shenanigans ...more
By Obbservant (449), southampton on Feb 3, 14 8:35 PM
1 member liked this comment
This is a good government measure more than an anti-corruption measure. Much of the discussion, in focusing on the scenario of the politically connected developer appearing with an application before one of the appointed land use boards, misses the problem which Ms. Fleming's measure directly targets. That is the vulnerable circularity of a system in which a political party committee member, who has a vote in selecting the party's candidates for Town Council, sits on a regulatory board appointed ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Feb 7, 14 11:03 AM
Mr. Bridge says it all. This new resolution ATH has come up with circumvents the real issue... and I don't doubt she knows it. Things have to change and Fleming's res is the way to do it. Protecting us from the (future) corrupt actions of the few is what our town council is supposed to do, isn't it?
By ebonybay (6), Hampton Bays on Feb 7, 14 11:45 AM
George can you cite one actual event envisioned in your scenario. One committee person, one town council person who committed a felony by making a quid pro qui in return for a vote? If you can let us rush to the District Attorney's office, if not, file it with the rest of the day dreams and conspiracy theorists.

No matter how you cut it, its window dressing, politics as usual, not as some say public service, not politics.

No individual committee person has that kind of juice, ...more
By NTiger (543), Southampton on Feb 7, 14 9:31 PM
So you'd put a dog in a room with a pork chop, and just because you can't cite an actual instance of that dog consuming a pork chop. you'd assume the pork chop is safe? Good luck.

Or put two men in a room, one with an axe and one with a baseball bat. Both are deaf and dumb, and at least one is ignorant of sign language, so they can't reach an explicit agreement to work together and not hurt each other. But don't you think they'll figure out that each has a weapon and come to the same ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Feb 8, 14 10:08 AM
I am astonished that you have such a low opinion of your brother and sister county committee people and elected officials.

Wasn't it George Lynch, aka Turkey Bridge, who wrote: if they elect a Republican or Democrat or Independent to the Council, rightly expect that person to seek the appointment of people with shared goals -- likely members of his/her own party -- to the various boards."

yes likely members of his/her own party to the various boards, but not members of the same ...more
By NTiger (543), Southampton on Feb 8, 14 11:30 AM
So if patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, then humor is the last refuge of . . . . whom? Those who can't come up with a substantive reply, so they make a lame joke of it all.

You're not only at a loss for a real answer, but you're still confusing non-committee party members, who have no vote on candidate selection, with party committee members, who do have such a vote, and that's what makes all the difference. Similarly confused are those who propose, as an alternative to the ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Feb 8, 14 10:22 PM
George the bottom line is that under the current election law Committee members do not place candidates on the ballot, they haven't had that kind of power since the late 60's early 70's. Those who carry designating petitions put candidates on the ballot.

The resolution as drafted is window dressing. Add eliminating anyone who carries a designating petition for a candidate of any major party and add any one who contributes a reportable amount to a candidates or party campaign finance ...more
By NTiger (543), Southampton on Feb 9, 14 1:12 PM