March 12, 2014

Proper Decorum

There is a right way to do things and a wrong way. Government officials, especially, are bound to a higher standard – a degree of professionalism should be exhibited at all times.

A recent East Hampton Town Hall meeting with representatives of the utility company PSEG serves as a primer of how NOT to conduct oneself in public.

PSEG, reacting to complaints that a series of electric poles being installed in East Hampton Village and Town are unsightly, took the complaints seriously – seriously enough that David Daly, the CEO of the huge utility, personally attended a meeting about the matter.

One can only assume he expected some serious discourse. His very presence was a signal that the utility took the complaints seriously and was genuinely interested in finding a workable solution.

Instead, he walked into a dog and pony show, a hostile environment replete with signs hung all over, even behind the dais. Along with East Hampton Mayor Paul Rickenbach and the new East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell, the room was filled with some 150 citizens, almost all of whom were vehemently opposed to any sort of sensible dialogue. Their message was myopic: we want the poles taken down, and we want the work stopped now!

Many were from a group called Save East Hampton, a group of well-meaning folks who, unfortunately, play loosy-goosey with the facts. The group's ads say the poles were installed without anyone's knowledge or permission. This is a patently false statement. Every homeowner along the route was notified by mail, and PSEG can prove it. The discussions with the village began in late 2012, and there were dozens of pieces of correspondence reviewed by the mayor and Cantwell, who was Village Administrator for much of the process.

There was a public hearing, and only afterwards, almost a year after the process began did the village issue the necessary permits to PSEG – the town quickly followed suit.

Cantwell, for his part has kept his head firmly stuck in the sand throughout these protests. He sat silently as a group of McGuirk Street residents complained – never mentioning that the village approved using their street on his watch. He sat silently as his Svengali, former town board member Debra Foster, a Democratic party operative, blamed the entire thing on Cantwell's predecessors, who played an incidental role at best.

Make no mistake about this: this project originated in the village, and a thorough review process transpired. Perhaps it could have been stopped, but our village fathers decided to allow it to proceed. Unfortunately, we are left with these eyesores.

This is not going to end well. Ultimately, when all of the state and federal money and all the FEMA funds and all the grants everyone is talking about are tallied, there is not going to be anywhere near enough money to bury the electric lines.

And then we will get the truth – the ratepayers are going to have to foot a significant amount of the cost. We sense the majority of citizens don't want to pay for the few who have been inconvenienced. PSEG was open and honest about what size the poles were and where they would be placed. If the people on those blocks don't want them there, the cost for their removal should rightfully be borne by those objecting to them, not the rest of us. If there is any doubt, let's put it to a public referendum when the time comes.

That said, every citizen of this village and town should be embarrassed about how the meeting was handled last week. There were a few classy people there – and most of them sat on the PSEG side of the table.

We've already succeeded in pissing off the governor and the head of PSEG by acting like spoiled, petulant rich kids. It's just a matter of time before we get our comeuppance.

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