The Southampton Town Board’s draft plan to tighten the rules of its appointed Citizen Advisory Committees, requiring them to stick to issues relevant only to the Town Board and file minutes that reflect the views of dissidents including non-members, continues to rankle the Bridgehampton CAC.
CAC chair Patricia Harwood aired a theory at the CAC’s monthly meeting Monday that the rules had something to do with the Town Board “feeling legally frail” over complaints that the town’s Board of Zoning Appeals had violated the state’s Open Meetings Law in making its recent decision to allow a golf course as an accessory use to The Hills subdivision in East Quogue.
Ms. Harwood also seemed to confirm the recollection of Councilwoman Christine Scalera, who attended the meeting along with Town Board liaison Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni, that the Bridgehampton CAC had once threatened to sue the Town Board over the possibility of a CVS pharmacy coming to Main Street.
CAC members Julie Burmeister, Nancy Walter-Yvertes and Peter Wilson, who were leaders of local opposition to the CVS plan, denied there had ever been such a threat. But Ms. Harwood herself said she had Googled the town’s CACs and immediately found the newspaper headline, “Bridgehampton CAC Threatens to Sue Town.”
“You can’t believe everything you read in the newspaper,” quipped CAC member Tom Watson.
A Google search by The Sag Harbor Expressdid not turn up that headline. It did yield a 27East.com story headlined, “Bridgehampton CAC to Hire attorney To Fight CVS.” It reported that Ms. Walter-Yvertes had vowed to hire an attorney “to do something artful and slow down the process” of any CVS application at a March 2014, meeting of the CAC attended by Ms. Scalera.
Also at the meeting on Monday, members expressed support for a town plan to create an historic district covering downtown Bridgehampton, which was explained to the CAC by Edward Wesnofske, chairman of the town’s Landmarks and Historic Districts Board, who last week made a presentation on the plan to the Town Board.
“Is there anybody here who does not feel the sooner the better?” Ms. Harwood asked, which elicited only a few chuckles.
The CAC members also heard member Tom Watson report on a December 7 meeting he had attended with Ms. Harwood with Supervisor Jay Schneiderman and others to discuss Bridgehampton Community House issues, particularly complaints about noisy dance music emanating from the town-owned facility.
Mr. Watson said the town intended to hire an acoustical consultant to look into the problem and assess the building during a walk-through in January. According to Councilman Schiavoni, who also attended the meeting, the town is considering installing its own audio system in the building so that its volume could be governed.
“That’s a property management issue,” said CAC member Peter Wilson. “It’s not being properly managed at night.” He urged the town to simply install an air conditioning system so the windows could be kept closed.
The most heated discussion on Monday involved the CAC rules that have been drafted by the town attorney’s office and sponsored by Councilwoman Julie Lofstad, who tabled them in November after CAC members complained they were an attempt to stifle the advisory boards. She said in a recent phone interview that she expected to table the proposal in light of the criticism it has provoked. She said she was in no rush to see it adopted by the Town Board and wanted to take the time “to get it right.”
Ms. Harwood, explaining her belief that The Hills controversy was in some way behind the new CAC rules, said, “Since we are an arm of the Town Board — the town board officially names us, officially sets the rules, so we are an advisory board of the town — so in any way we might be legally liable, we are an extension of the town board.
“And I think the town board is feeling legally frail about The Hills situation because when I read in the paper what was going on with The Hills, some watchdog group saying they weren’t complying with the state open meetings rules, saying they were having deliberations behind closed doors … so there’s a new initiative to have everyone attend CAC meetings, whether they are members or not. The Bridgehampton CAC has always had open doors. It’s never been an issue for us.”
Ms. Scalera defended the Town Board’s effort to more clearly define the role of its CACs.
“I can tell you that there have been discussions in one form or another about the functionality and the limitations, and the understanding of their role, both from the CACs’ perspective and from the Town Board’s perspective,” she said, “as to what they expect and what they don’t expect from CACs.”
“For the most part, it works great,” she said of the CACs and their relationship with the Town Board, but there “have been situations, though … and when they happen, they happen big …” These are situations “that all of a sudden highlight that, ‘Wait a second, there’s something that not right here.’”
“We had a situation with Bridgehampton CAC,” Ms. Scalera said, “several years ago, when the CAC was threatening to sue the town, and the Town Board was like, ‘Wait a minute. You are us. You’re suing us? You’re galvanizing people to sue us? That’s not the way this was supposed to work.’”