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Jan 21, 2015 11:10 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town Board Considers Term Limits, Alternates For Regulatory Boards

Jan 21, 2015 11:32 AM

With an eye to opening access for more residents to participate in town government, the Southampton Town Board is considering an overhaul of the schedule by which members of various regulatory and advisory boards are appointed, and how long they serve in a given post.

The board is considering a limit of two four-year terms for members of the town’s Conservation Board, Licensing Review Board, Architectural Review Board, and Landmarks and Historic Districts Board—some of which have members who have served on them for more than 20 years.

In the process, the board would also establish new four-year terms for all the boards and a staggered appointment schedule, so that only one or two seats on each board would be up for appointment in a given year.

“Every year, we have numerous constituents who send letters and resumes and are interested in serving on these boards and contributing their expertise and experience,” Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said during a work session last week on the legislation, which is still in early draft form. “But because the habit has been to reappoint sitting board members … it doesn’t allow a lot of room for new blood to participate in government.”

The legislation the board has been looking at thus far would consider the length of time members of the boards have already served in limiting their future appointments. Those members who have served the longest—about a half dozen individuals across the various boards—might be reappointed to only short terms of a year or two, to establish staggered reappointment schedules, then would not be eligible for new appointments to full terms.

The longest-serving current board member is Conservation Board Chairman Harry Ludlow, who has been on the board for 25 years. Licensing Review Board Chairman Anthony D’Italia has served for 23 years. And Conservation Board members George Heine and Tom Rickenbach have served for 19 and 18 years, respectively. All would be eligible for only truncated new terms and then would be blocked from reappointment if the new approach to appointments were adopted as currently crafted.

In 2007, the Town Board adopted two-term limits for members of the town’s most powerful regulatory boards, the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Planning Board. A year later, the Town Board shortened the terms on those boards from seven years to five.

But the limits to the planning and zoning boards were applied only to terms starting after the new law took effect, on January 1, 2008, so that members already on the board at that time would still be eligible to serve out the remainder of their terms, and then two more full terms if the Town Board saw fit to reappoint them.

The adoption of longer, staggered terms are intended to dampen the effects of the loss of institutional knowledge as older board members are replaced with newcomers.

Currently, some of the boards have their entire membership up for appointment every year or every two years. The arrangement leaves open the possibility that a Town Board with a political agenda could completely overhaul a regulatory board within a single election cycle.

“Within two years, you could completely replace the Conservation Board, if you were so inclined,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “With the staggered four-year terms, you could never replace more than two members in two years.”

Along with the new appointment guidelines, the town also is considering the appointment of alternates to each of the regulatory and advisory boards, the planning and zoning boards included, as well as to the Public Safety Commission and the Community Preservation Fund advisory panel.

Alternates, the supervisor said, would ensure, or at least make it more likely, that a full contingent of board members would be present to hear and vote on applications before them. The alternate seats also would offer something of an apprenticeship for potential appointees to the boards.

“It is a way to get new board members acclimated and up to speed,” the supervisor said. “And then when the turnover happens with term limits, someone is there and ready to go.”

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New blood's a good thing, but you shouldn't drain out all the old blood to get it. As with any large group, some serving members of our appointed boards are better than others.

If a member has been on an appointed board for long time, maybe there's a good reason for it. Maybe she is very good and has just gotten better over time. Maybe she has a great store of institutional memory and applied expertise that others don't have. Under term limits, she'd be dumped, regardless of all that. ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1966), Quiogue on Jan 24, 15 3:02 PM
Interesting that this happened shortly after the planning board came out against the CPI deal. Guess the town board wants to get rid of people who are doing their job.
By bird (824), Southampton on Jan 25, 15 5:43 PM