Should a Citizens Advisory Committee in Southampton Town play the role of advocate before the Town Planning Board, opposing or calling for modifications in development proposals?
When Supervisor Jay Schneiderman heard Marlene Haresign, a veteran of the Water Mill CAC, say her panel has been lobbying the planning board for decades, his jaw nearly dropped. The town board itself, ethically and legally, should not meddle in the decision-making process of the town’s zoning board of appeals or planning board, he argued, so why should a CAC, as an extension of the town board, be free to do it?
Ms. Haresign was speaking to the board to oppose a proposal, sponsored by Councilwoman Julie Lofstad, to revise the board’s rules of operation for the CACs. It was on the agenda for adoption at Tuesday’s board meeting, a seemingly routine housekeeping chore, but Ms. Haresign spoke out asking why no CAC members had been invited to participate in the revision process. She also said it seemed to her the proposal was designed to stifle the CACs, especially with its language stating that CACs “exist to discuss town board-related issues only in order to provide advice.” (The italics are in the resolution.) A Bridgehampton CAC member also came to the meeting to ask that the resolution be put off for a month so that CAC members could study it.
From the public’s perspective, it’s alarming that the town board did not invite CAC members to have any say in the rule revision process. On the other hand, Supervisor Schneiderman’s qualms about lobbying are understandable and even commendable. Southampton Town operates by the book; it would be good if more towns and villages did so too.
But he’s going overboard in this case. In hamlets that don’t have active and effective civic associations, CACs naturally take on the role of community advocate. That might irritate town board members when their political positions don’t mesh with a particularly meddlesome and annoying CAC but it does no harm.
CAC members are politically feeble, unlike town board members. They wield no power. Unpaid, unelected volunteers, they can’t enact law, run the government or spend money. Within reason, the board should let them do their thing as long as they are truly representing the interests of their communities.