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Nov 27, 2018 2:49 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town Board Looks To Define Roles Of Citizen Advisory Committees, An Issue In Both Towns

Southampton Town Board member Tommy John Schiavoni told members of the Bridgehampton Citizen Advisory Committee that he was there to listen to their concerns. Also pictured is Pamela Harwood. JON WINKLER
Dec 4, 2018 1:54 PM

Officials in both Southampton and East Hampton towns have been looking for ways to clarify the roles of citizen advisory committees following incidents in both towns when, some have charged, the committees have overstepped their bounds.

In an effort to ensure all 10 citizen advisory committees in Southampton Town operate in the same way, Town Board members are looking to specify the role of the groups—which is, as the name implies, purely advisory.

In particular, the proposed rules are intended to keep CACs from offering advice to regulatory land use boards like the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, because the Town Board itself is not allowed to advise those boards by law.

The 10 Southampton CACs—Bridgehampton, East Quogue, Flanders/Riverside/Northampton, Hampton Bays, North Sea, Noyac, Sag Harbor, Southampton/Tuckahoe/Shinnecock Hills, Water Mill and Westhampton/Remsenburg/Speonk/Eastport/Quiogue—were initially set up to advise the Town Board about what is happening in the various communities.

The proposed rules state that CACs “serve as a link between the Town Board and its communities; exist to discuss Town Board-related issues only in order to provide advice; provide input for the Town Board to consider when discussing land use and planning matters that affect the specific hamlet; provide input by way of submission of minutes of CAC meetings to the Town Board; and provide information to the Town Board for matters that they see as affecting their hamlet …”

“The CACs were created by the Town Board to advise the Town Board—not other boards,” Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman stressed, noting that the board appoints the CAC members.

Like in Southampton, East Hampton Town Board members appoint CAC members, and, in turn, the members are there to advise the Town Board on issues in their individual communities.

East Hampton Town Attorney Michael Sendlenski said CACs are advisory to the Town Board to help “keep a finger on the pulse” of the community.

Rules for how the CACs operate in East Hampton were codified in 2010. Though not prohibited from speaking to members of the ZBA and Planning Board, committee members are trained on how to address those boards, Mr. Sendlenski said. For example, he said, they can say they are a member of a particular CAC, but that they are speaking on their own behalf, as a citizen of the town.

But some members still have spoken on behalf of the CAC to regulatory boards and outside agencies—and faced consequences for doing so.

Si Kinsella, a member of the Wainscott CAC in 2016 and 2017, has spoken out about numerous issues in Wainscott, including private wells that were found to be contaminated with perfluorinated compounds.

In January 2017, Mr. Kinsella sent a letter to Dodson and Flinker, a landscape architecture firm in Northampton, Massachusetts, on behalf of the “environmental sub-committee of the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee.”

At the time, Mr. Sendlenski told Mr. Kinsella in a letter that his communication to Dodson and Flinker “is beyond the scope of the limited authority that the Town Board has granted to the Wainscott CAC, and improper.”

Mr. Kinsella’s letter was sent to elected officials, state regulatory agencies, the press and professional consultants, and Mr. Sendlenski said, “This oversteps on a number of levels, most importantly in that you are supposed to be advising the Town Board, not the general public or other interested parties.”

Mr. Kinsella, on the other hand, said he was not advising anyone when he sought out information from Dodson and Flinker. Instead, he was going after information that the town would not provide to him.

“I had no authority to advise,” Mr. Kinsella said on Tuesday. “They weren’t doing their job, and I needed information.”

Mr. Kinsella said when he sent the letter, he copied every agency that was mentioned in the body of the text, as a courtesy.

Angered by the outreach, East Hampton Town Board members declined to reappoint Mr. Kinsella to the CAC in 2018.

Proposed measures in Southampton seek to allow communication by CAC members to the Town Board only. Some CAC members in Southampton claim the proposed rule modifications are just an effort to mute them, especially when it comes to land use proposals in their hamlets—which is the primary concern of many CACs.

Marlene Haresign, a member of the Water Mill CAC, voiced her frustrations with the rule changes to the Town Board on November 13. One of her main concerns was that none of the CAC chairs was asked for input prior to presenting the rule changes. That move alone created confusion within the various CACs.

“The Southampton Town Board’s intention to revise the rules governing the town-appointed CACs came as a complete surprise to all the chairs and other members,” Pamela Harwood, the chairwoman of the Bridgehampton CAC, said in an email. “No one from the Town Board had contacted any of us in advance for input or even a heads-up. Suddenly, the topic showed up on the November 1 Town Board work session agenda.

“If members of the Town Board had a problem with our activities or thought we were ‘overstepping our bounds,’ it would seem sensible to meet with each of us and convey their concerns. But they did not do that.”

Like Ms. Harwood, Ms. Haresign said she was not sure what actually prompted the effort to revise the rules.

Town Board member Julie Lofstad, the sponsor of the proposed changes, said they were designed to clarify a few things and make the boards more inclusive for the community—not just members. She explained that sometimes a CAC may give opinions that are supposed to represent the community, but in fact represent only the views of individual members.

Under the proposed new rules, the CACs will be required to submit meeting minutes to the Town Board, Ms. Lofstad said, so that if a member of the community speaks out against a proposal or an issue, it will be included in the minutes for the board to see.

“If people talk about a certain issue and want to voice their concerns, it will be in the minutes,” she said.

Ms. Lofstad said another change in the rules would prevent elected officials from serving on CACs to avoid any potential conflicts of interest. Anyone else who lives in the hamlet is eligible to serve on the CAC.

But the biggest issue being addressed with the revised rules is that the CAC can advise only the Town Board. “The reason they were created was to be advisory to the Town Board,” Ms. Lofstad said of the CACs.

She explained that when a CAC advises another board, such as the Planning Board or Zoning Board of Appeals, it could appear that they were doing so on behalf of the Town Board—and, by law, “the Town Board cannot advise an appointed board.” She added that Town Attorney James Burke is looking into ethical and legal opinions regarding advising regulatory boards.

Ms. Haresign said the CAC primarily meets to discuss proposed projects in their hamlets. “It says in the new rules that we can only address issues that the Town Board lists on their agendas,” she said. “The Town Board seldom deals with site plans. That’s what most CACs are interested in.

“Most CACs are just trying to preserve the special character of every hamlet,” she added.

Craig Catalanotto, the co-chairman of the Westhampton-Speonk-Remsenburg-Eastport-Quogue CAC, or CAC West, also said land development is a big issue that his CAC discusses, but he understands why the rules are being changed.

“The changes seem mostly procedural,” Mr. Catalanotto said, explaining they appear to be formalities.

One of Mr. Schneiderman’s concerns is that the CACs are acting more like civic associations. Civic associations have the ability to express concerns to land use boards, because they are not appointed by the Town Board, and sometimes can operate as not-for-profit organizations.

Because of the new rules, members of the Bridgehampton CAC are now considering creating a civic association.

Mr. Kinsella, who has since been voicing his concerns with projects on his own, said he likewise is looking into starting a civic association in Wainscott. He added that others are interested in starting the association with him, to be free from Town Board regulation.

“The big question now is, ‘What is the advantage to civic-minded community volunteers to be on a very restrictive Town Board CAC, as opposed to the unrestricted activities of the hamlet civic coalitions?’” Ms. Harwood said. “We could speak as a group to the Planning and ZBA boards. The civics already have Town Board members attending their meetings; they are also sent advance copies of agendas. And we could raise funds for impact studies and other needs.

“However, we decided to review the CAC revision draft more thoroughly and work with our Town Board liaison further to try to reach an agreement acceptable to all parties,” she added.

The Town Board members plan to revisit the changes at the board’s December 11 meeting, at 1 p.m.

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I suspect most people are reading this and have no idea what this is about or what a CAC is versus a Civic. No worries, Apparently neither do some of the Town Board members. This has been an issue for almost 20 years, maybe it will take another 20 to actually get it right. NYC has well organized Community Boards for decades. It seems to me that some Town Board members like the confusion so they can "opinion shop" and find the community group that will support what they want to do and/or help ...more
Nov 27, 18 5:56 PM appended by G.A.Lombardi
and/or help in their political campaigns.
By G.A.Lombardi (513), Hampton Bays on Nov 27, 18 5:56 PM
Note to Greg Wehner: The name of the chair of the CAC West is “Catalanotto,” not “Catalano.”

There’s a broader movement going on here than what appears from this story. Correctly or incorrectly, the piece says that the Town Board itself, much less the CACs, cannot advise the appointed boards. One might ask, why not?

That’s another conversation, but it’s all part of this movement to insulate the appointed boards from any outside influence, ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1957), Quiogue on Nov 27, 18 6:24 PM
time to shut down the NIMBY carpetbaggers who have been influencing all boards for years. ger back to the real purpose of the cac
By xtiego (698), bridgehampton on Nov 27, 18 6:48 PM
The East Quogue CAC sent letters of support to the Planning Board and the ZBA in favor of the project the Councilwoman sponsoring these proposed changes voted against. Coincidence?

By cmac (181), East Quogue on Nov 27, 18 7:14 PM
cmac, it has been my experience in HB, that members of the Town Board go to the groups that support what they already want to do or their campaigns. The fact, law, truth, real community support is irrelevant. Councilperson Scalera tries her best to get to the law, facts, truth and then balance that against community input, but I have seen other Board members and their alleged trusted advisers look like deer in headlight. One such adviser told the HB CAC not to "conflate" the truth, facts and the ...more
Nov 27, 18 7:24 PM appended by G.A.Lombardi
not to "conflate" the truth, facts and the law with Jay's proposal for the Bel-Aire purchase...like medicine peddlers at a carnival show.
By G.A.Lombardi (513), Hampton Bays on Nov 27, 18 7:24 PM
G.A. Lombardi, your comment above implies that Ms. Scalera is the only member of the five-person Town Board who tries to "get to the law, facts, truth and then balance that against community input . . ." You didn't really mean that, did you? If you did, it would be a pretty partisan comment, picking out the only Republican on the Board as the only member who tries to do her job right. Straighten us out, please.
By Turkey Bridge (1957), Quiogue on Nov 28, 18 8:50 AM
I am a political unaffiliated and Julie Lofstad, Tommy John Schiavoni and John Bouvier can attest that my home was used to support Julies campaign for the special election - so NO it is not partisan. It is my NON-partisan observations. Someone said to me "give Jay the vote to disappoint" and he did and he has.
By G.A.Lombardi (513), Hampton Bays on Nov 28, 18 9:57 AM
Here is another non-partisan observation for you Turkey...I sent several letters to the entire Town Board regarding the Damascus Dump site and the water contamination it is currently causing. The ONLY Town Board member who has ever replied is Christine Scalera.
By cmac (181), East Quogue on Nov 28, 18 10:04 AM
George Lynch a/k/a Turkey Bridge - a member of the democratic committee probably only see things as political. People who ARE political probably don't believe that some of us are not.
By G.A.Lombardi (513), Hampton Bays on Nov 28, 18 10:08 AM
G.A., it's a shame that you don't show me the respect that I show you. I asked a question of you respectfully, simply to make sure you weren't making a blatantly partisan comment. I accepted your answer without challenge or objection. But now you launch this wholly unsupported smear disparaging my Democratic Committee membership and alleging that I therefore have a skewed perspective about people's motives.

Not so, G.A. I voted for more than one Republican in the recent election, not ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1957), Quiogue on Nov 28, 18 11:29 AM
TB - actually, I found your comment very partisan and disrespectful. I have followed the Board meeting carefully over the past three years. Good ideas and problems that need to be solved go into an abyss of incompetence and out pops unrecognizable solutions, incomplete and overpriced projects and solutions in search of problems. This is on the Supervisor. The fact pattern leading up to the premature resolution for the changes to the CAC roles is no different that "Bel-Aire gate", the trolley ...more
Nov 28, 18 11:47 AM appended by G.A.Lombardi
the trolley that roamed HB aimlessly all summer, the ridiculous discussions around accessory apartments, GGP with no comfort stations, the Pavilion coming in $1 million higher than what was projected, etc. From what I see, no one seems to question what goes on except Councilperson Scalera.
By G.A.Lombardi (513), Hampton Bays on Nov 28, 18 11:47 AM
1 member liked this comment
" it has been my experience in HB, that members of the Town Board go to the groups that support what they already want to do or their campaigns."
Which is the exact opposite of the experiences that I've had with the town board. When discussing the workforce housing apartments in Speonk, the board went out of their way to hear us and work towards a fair end. That board was made up of Stan Glinka, Julie Lofstad, Christine Scalera, John Bouvier and Jay Schneiderman. All treated us fairly and were ...more
By Craigcat (255), Speonk on Dec 1, 18 1:34 PM
1 member liked this comment
How many organizations do you have in Speonk? HB has the HBCA, HBBA, Chamber, "Moms", 3 PTA/PTO, throw in the Library and School Board, Lions and Rotary and the TB have a cornucopia of groups to go to for opinion shopping. Some of the group leadership/Boards are self-serving since they want grants or favors (or maybe even their picture in the paper),, so they go along with what some of the TB members what whether or not it is in the best interest of HB at large.
By G.A.Lombardi (513), Hampton Bays on Dec 6, 18 8:39 AM
Turkey Bridge - While there is no rule stating that all Executive Board members of a political party must vote "lock step" with the Party, common sense would dictate that any such Board member, who disagreed with the Party's choice, would not openly support a candidate from the opposition and air such thoughts on a public forum. The Southampton Democratic Executive Board should be interested to learn about your new approach to Party unity.
By HamptonClassic (108), Southampton on Nov 28, 18 2:23 PM
G.A. Lombardi, you have a lot of complaints and they all concern Hampton Bays. So if Southampton Town’s doing such a bad job in Hampton Bays, why hasn’t the community split off and formed an incorporated village? There has been more than one such initiative in recent years, but they just don’t get traction. Why not? I guess it has to be that there just aren’t that many people who share your opinion, G.A. If the Town were failing the community as badly as you charge, we’d ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1957), Quiogue on Nov 29, 18 11:38 PM
Sorry TB, but I disagree - HB should NOT have to form a village and tax the working class and seniors in HB to compensate for the incompetence, fat and waste at the Town level. The Board has approved a budget than now eclipses $100 million. The entire Township should see effective use of that money.
By G.A.Lombardi (513), Hampton Bays on Nov 30, 18 10:34 AM
Folks come to the CAC-W with all kinds of issues that aren't necessarily town board related. We hear from developers looking to build apartments, land use disputes, variances, street lights, tick control, traffic issues, water runoff concerns, etc.
Our feeling is that if it's a community issue we'll talk about it and see if we can assist in any manner. Our TB liaison, John Bouvier, typically takes notes and either contacts the appropriate town department, or guides us to people that can assist. ...more
By Craigcat (255), Speonk on Dec 1, 18 1:11 PM
CACs represent the TB and should only interact with it, not other appointed groups outside of the elected TB. And yes, anything and everything that concerns a resident of a hamlet should be brought to the attention of the TB by a CAC for assistance and direction.
By Taz (689), East Quogue on Dec 1, 18 1:39 PM
The CAC's often turn into buffers for the TB instead of having the same individual bring their concerns directly to the TB and have on SEA-TV in open session. The CAC's have no power to do anything about anything. They should be able to speak to land use and zoning issues no matter what board that issue is before.The CAC receives the payer copies of the plans historically...what were they supposed to do with them???
By G.A.Lombardi (513), Hampton Bays on Dec 2, 18 5:12 PM
Hampton Bays Rotary, Autumn Evening by the Sea, Oakland's, HB Rotary