At the latest Southampton Village Board work session, we learned that we have nearly exhausted our budget for legal expenses for the current fiscal year, with more than four months left. Residents deserve an explanation and more transparency about what is driving our legal expenses and should be told why these expenditures have been so significantly under-budgeted.
I am grateful that several trustees are concerned and seem willing to take steps to curb unnecessary legal expense. Copying the village attorney on dozens of emails seems like a recipe for financial disaster and should be modified so that only those truly requiring legal review or input are forwarded.
However, now is not the time to skimp on basic legal services, because one of the contributing factors to the current mess that is Southampton Village governance is a failure to properly engage, utilize and/or follow legal advice, perhaps compounded by quality issues with prior village counsels.
Thankfully, we have a new village attorney who is spoken of highly and has demonstrated the sort of independence and focus that the position requires. We should continue to support him and (unfortunately) commit to spending whatever it takes to correct major problems from the past several years, including:
• Leases signed and laws proposed that were in direct conflict with village code.
•Late and/or incomplete notice for public hearings.
•A pattern of incomplete and even withheld compliance with Freedom of Information laws.
• The abusive use of “holdover” status on village boards, allowing the mayor to have the ability to immediately terminate members from independent boards. The code calls for staggered terms specifically to avoid just such concentration of power and influence.
• Unethical and possibly illegal involvement of Village Hall in specific land-use applications.
We need a long-term solution to the skyrocketing cost of legal services to the village. But, in the short term, we also need to up the village’s legal game to ensure that things are done on the up-and-up and in the interest of its residents.
One fine body…