The much-maligned Republican-dominated East Hampton Town Board is going out with quite a flourish. Recently, New York State announced the town will be the recipient of a $536,425 efficiency grant, the result of "model financial practices that reduce the property tax burden."
Late last week, after a protracted argument about how much should be budgeted for an anticipated increase in health insurance costs, the state announced the increase will be 1.8 percent, in line with predictions made by Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Deputy Supervisor Theresa Quigley. Minority members of the board wanted a 10 percent buffer written into the budget, double what Wilkinson recommended, costing taxpayers an additional $500,000.
The sentiment in some quarters was that since the Democrats are set to take over the town board in January their wishes should be given more credence now.
Incoming Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell sounded the horn in October, when he expressed disappointment that the town board hadn't consulted him before naming a new police chief (Mike Sarlo) and making Tom Prieato the official Chief Building Inspector, a position he's been filling since Don Sharkey died.
Why would the board want to consult Cantwell? Wilkinson et al were elected by the people to serve two full years. When the term ends, Cantwell's reign begins – not before. It's the same in every municipality – newly elected officials have no authority until January, and shouldn't expect to have a say in matters, though it would be a nice gesture to keep them informed.
It worries us that once in power the East Hampton Democrats will revert back to the party-first mentality that crippled the town with its petty politics during the McGintee era.
The back story on Prieato is that incumbent Democratic board members Peter Van Scoyoc and Sylvia Overby did not want him appointed, a sentiment shared by Cantwell. The reason, though, may have little to do with his job performance. Prieato apparently told the DA's office that Overby was interfering with his work – specifically the approval process for the Montauk Beach Club -- she was lucky to escape with a firm reprimand from investigators.
The question must be asked – are we to expect more of this kind of pettiness?
All of this comes into play because there are two highly charged debates going on at the town board as we enter the final month of the Wilkinson administration. One is a proposal to create a senior housing overlay in Amagansett, which will allow the developer increased density; the other is whether to approve an airport master plan.
Both issues have supporters and detractors; regardless of where residents sit on each position, we must all recognize one indisputable fact for better or for worse – the decisions will be made by the sitting town board if they come up for a vote before January.
If the new administration wants to revisit some of these measures next year, so be it – but let's hope issues are decided on their merits.
It would be arrogant for the newcomers to assume their way is the right way – we must never forget Wilkinson and company spent four years undoing the mess the Democrats created the last time they were in power.