Len Bernard, the Budget Officer insiders credit with the restoration of East Hampton's fiscal health, will remain at the helm of the finance office come January. On Sunday, Supervisor-elect Larry Cantwell announced plans to keep Bernard on next year when he takes office.
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According to a release heralding the expected appointment, Cantwell said, "Len Bernard helped spearhead the financial recovery of the Town, reorganize the finance department, and developed strong working relationships with the N.Y.S. Comptrollers Office and the financial professionals who advise the Town. I want his experience and dedication working with me to continue the town on a path of financial recovery and balanced budgets."
The pair, both natives of Amagansett, have known each other since boyhood. They grew up in the same neighborhood, with Bernard, a few years younger, serving as batboy to Cantwell's Babe Ruth Little League team. Their grandmothers were best friends, Bernard informed this week.
In adulthood, their political philosophies diverged. Bernard, a staunch Republican, ran twice unsuccessfully for supervisor on the GOP line and served as a member of the town board during the 90s. Cantwell's a Democrat.
"While we may be loyal members of different political parties, Len and I agree there is no room for party politics when it comes to the financial health of the town," his release emphasizes. "I don't think this is any great surprise," the supervisor-elect said Sunday. "There's a good finance team in there and I want a good team."
Making good on vows to craft an inclusive administration, Cantwell said he's invited Councilman-elect Fred Overton, who will be the sole Republican on the dais come January, to participate in transition discussions.
"All too often, in the past," his released statement continues, "a new majority discusses transition plans for appointments and organization without inviting minority party involvement. With the support of the Democrats on the new town board I have invited Fred and he has agreed to be a full partner in our transition planning. I look forward to Fred playing an equal role among the town board members. The election is over and it is time to move forward together."
Part of that moving forward will include a close look at appointed positions such as those in the town attorney's office. Cantwell said the team has given current staff in the TA's office an opportunity to be considered and hopes to make decisions by the beginning of next month "so they know where they stand."
Over the last 20 years, Cantwell's predecessors have all tried their hand at a wholesale revamping of select town departments, particularly the ordinance enforcement branch. Asked if he, too, plans such an overhaul, Cantwell said, "There's a lot for us to learn about how the town is operating now. A more determined effort in enforcement of quality of life issues is a priority of ours." How key departments operate will be carefully reviewed, he said, "professionally and objectively."
As he prepares to lead a new Democratic majority into town hall, Cantwell is also looking to restore a chief of staff, or executive assistant to the supervisor's office. The position was eliminated by current Supervisor Bill Wilkinson as a cost-cutting measure.
Returning to the Bernard appointment, Cantwell isn't the only supervisor who's crossed party lines when putting together his management team. In 1999, then-supervisor-elect Jay Schneiderman, who swept in on the Republican line, irked party faithful by appointing Democrat Eric Bregman Town Attorney, and naming Eric Brown, who'd been appointed to the TA's office by his democratic predecessor Cathy Lester, as his chief of staff.
Bernard served as Schneiderman's budget officer and saw the town through four bond rating upgrades; for a time East Hampton enjoyed the highest bond rating of any town in the state. He returned to the budget office in 2010 under Wilkinson.
In a statement Sunday, he said, "I want to thank Supervisor-elect Cantwell for giving me the opportunity to be part of his effort to move the town towards the high financial standing it should ultimately attain. The town has come a long way in four years and I know Larry wants to keep that momentum going applying his 30 years of experience in municipal management.
"His willingness to recognize the accomplishments and skills of the current financial team and put good government ahead of politics sets up the Town well to continue the move forward."