Op-Ed: County's Actions Against Town 'Startling'

Deputy town supervisor, who spearheaded Hansom Hills project, says Town's failure in obtaining county approval to begin with is problematic and point to a system in need of reform.

The following is East Hampton Town Deputy Supervisor Theresa Quigley's response to the county's notice of claim filed against the town regarding the violation of the county's Farmland Law. 

In 2010, Hansom Hills flooded. The town engineer pulled out plans developed under the Schneiderman administration and suggested that we revisit those plans. Apparently, the issue of flooding along the farm fields is a long standing problem caused by the topography of the fields and the lands across the street in the Hansom Hills subdivision. 

For years, the rain waters wash across the fields, pooling right where the would- be recharge basin sits, and in really heavy rains, the water breaches Route 114, and floods out the roads and homes of those who live across the road. The location of the would-be recharge basin, we are told, is best suited to its use, because the constant moisture in the would-be recharge basin area makes that entire section of the fields untenable for farming.  

In 2010, when the fields flooded again, the town's engineer gave us the 2001 Schneiderman plans and the Town attorney's office was asked to weigh-in. The Town attorney's office advised that all we needed was approval from the land owner.  The engineer, the town attorney, and the planning department worked for two years on getting the updated engineering plans, and appropriate approvals necessary to move the project from concept to reality. 

I as a town board member communicated regularly with these employees for status updates.  When told that they were stuck on trying to get in contact with the owner, I reached out to the owner and got her signature.  The various departments advised the proposal was ready to be approved by the Town Board.  The entire town board approved the project, and bids for the work were solicited. A bid was accepted and work commenced. 

As it turns out, County approval was necessary. The County notified the Town and immediately, the planning, natural resources, engineer, and town attorneys' offices, and I worked on getting appropriate approvals.  Our planning director and attorney went to Suffolk County to work on a plan satisfactory to both parties. The County suggested an alternative plan, one unacceptable to the local farmers, as that alternative plan took usable farm fields out of circulation.  Further, we were advised that that alternative plan was much more complicated and extensive and would cost significantly more.  The County advised that we should submit an application for approval of our plan.

The application was submitted a month ago, and Friday the application was returned, unaccepted, and the lawsuit was received, with a "personal" note to the supervisor written on the back of a business card of a former Tim Bishop staff member, one who has not enjoyed good relations with the Town in the past. 

The lawsuit is startling. It is a complete reversal from the Town's immediate attempts to settle the issues with the County once the issue was realized. It is in contradiction to the discussions the Town was having with the County.  It is a move that escalates cost, as it sets the County and Town at odds instead of as two governmental bodies working for a solution.

Finally, it is perplexing for, while the County certainly has rights that must and should have been included in the decision, it just as certainly has not taken an active role in the issues of this subdivision and the destruction of the fields and of the property owner's homes in the past. Many years ago, the Hansom Hills homeowners sued for the loss to their property and the Town, as holders of an easement to the property, defended the lawsuit and paid all the damages.  The County, as holders of the development rights, contributed nothing to the defense nor to the settlement.  

Not only is the lawsuit startling, but the Town's failure in obtaining their approval to begin with is problematic.  From my perspective, this failure is symptomatic of many issues in town government.  These failures are constant and continual and they point out a system which cries out for reform, but which reform seems almost unattainable without laying down the political rhetoric and defensive postures and simply demanding accountablity at all levels.  It is time the system was turned on its head. 

Sharon Marie Buckler September 20, 2012 at 06:44 PM
This is TOTALLY unacceptable and the County should be countersued. We have all been reading about this for a very long time. The County should have signed off on this when the engineering reports and the signature from the landowner was received. Why would the County go after our town? Turn on the system on its head. It is about time...
Carole Campolo September 20, 2012 at 09:29 PM
Thank you Steve Bellone and your deputy Schneider for suing the Town of East Hampton. Defense of this lawsuit will come out of the pocket of every single East Hampton taxpayer. Moreover, it will continue the damage that is being done to the farmers and homeowners that are living in this area. These people need relief, not lawsuits. Once again crass politics trumps what is good for the taxpayers. The residents affected in this area can only hope for a dry winter. If not, every time their property floods, they should call Bellone and his deputy. Sending that kind of note to another elected official who represents all East Hampton residents was not only sending an "FU" message to Bill, but to each and every East Hampton taxpayer and resident. That deputy should be fired, immediately. And you press people, you should start asking questions about exactly who this guy is and what qualifies him to be in that position. He better have a great resume. The contempt these two public servants have shown to East Hampton taxpayers is disgusting.
eh September 21, 2012 at 12:20 AM
Mrs Quigley is correct in her complaint regarding the county Govt response - heads should roll starting with the "aide" who wrote the smart -#% comment to the Town. Then take the County attorney deputy providing the smug advice to Mr. Bellone, to send the notice of claim, and fire him/or her. Unfortunately on our end heads also need to roll in all areas where bad and careless advice was provided to our Town Board by those being paid to provide correct advice. - otherwise take the costs and fees out of their salaries. The public is tired of the nonsense. The county execs office needs to wake up and remember that those of us out here in "Hampton Land" vote, and vote for the person who holds his office, for one reaso, n so he can work for us - not against us. Get it together - regardless of political affiliation - this mess is not one that can be blamed on our town board - not democratic and not republican - lets work together now and get this thing taken care of.
David Buda September 21, 2012 at 02:36 AM
As any attorney should know, a Notice of Claim is not a lawsuit but rather a legal prerequisite that must be timely filed to prevent loss of the statutory right to sue a governmental entity pursuant to various Claims Acts that abrogated sovereign immunity. A municipality must be given written notice of a claim within 90 days of its occurrence. So, I don't understand why some of our politicians are throwing a fit. I take the personal note on the business card to be another way of simply saying "It's nothing personal, just a legal necessity." How about publishing the Notice of Claim for all to read? David Buda
J September 21, 2012 at 02:08 PM
Not only will East Hampton taxpayers being paying for the defense, they'll be paying for the prosecution through county taxes. That's how dumb this is. East Hampton taxpayers are potentially on the hook to pay legal fees for both sides of the same lawsuit! Bellone and his idiot staff need to stop this now.
Love East Hampton September 21, 2012 at 03:23 PM
When bureaucrats collide! I hope the state was consulted. Heck, the feds too. Plenty of "work" here to keep a few dozen bureaucrats employed for a year or two. Although I guess it becomes even more lucrative when escalated to get the litigators involved. Yes, by all means...raise my taxes. It's nice to see the $ in action.
Debra Brodie Foster September 21, 2012 at 09:09 PM
I agree with Councilwoman Quigley that nobody wins when lawsuits are threatened. However, in a memo from the Town Attorney BEFORE the project had even begun, it was pointed out to her that Suffolk County approval Was necessary. It was also understood that SHE would contact Suffolk County because County residents paid for the protection of these soils that have been deemed the best for growing food in the US. Ms. Quigley never reached County officials before the soil removal began. The only reason I am responding is because she consistently publicly blames our excellent planning staff for problems she has created. That is not fair to those professionals and it is wrong for her to hide behind them. If there is any accountability to be had, she should look in the mirror.
truth 2011 September 21, 2012 at 10:40 PM
If there was a memo from a town attorney to a town board member I would guess that the memo is privileged. That is a 99.9% certainty. How did Foster get it? And how does she know that "it was also understood" that Quigley would contact the county? Also, is Deb Foster SURE that Quigley did not expect the person sending the memo would make the contact with the county and handle the issue? I would think normally the legal staff, or the town engineer, or the outside engineer would handle all the permits and approvals because that is their jobs. I would never think that a town board member would be filling out paperwork and getting approvals because that is NOT their job. Still, I would like to know how Deb Foster has access to privileged town attorney correspondence and how she knows "what was understood". It is very troubling that Foster gets from "someone" within the town government what I or anyone else can only get through a formal request, and even at that it is only an ATTEMPT to get it within the parameters of the disclosure laws. I would guess that a town employee broke the law here because even another town board member cannot get correspondence between the town attorney and some other board member. The people who live in Hansom Hills who have had to endure 10 years of neglect have to be shaking their heads in disbelief that as soon as something is done it becomes the subject of Bellone-Bishop-Frankl political gamesmanship.
Cannot Believe This September 21, 2012 at 11:39 PM
To Deb Foster ----- I cannot believe T. Quigley would start this blog if she did not believe the Town Attorney was taking care of County requirements and would certainly alert her and the rest of the Town Board members if there was a problem before the project was started. If the Town Attorney knew the necessary ok's were not in place at the time resolutions were adopted to award contracts and start the work I would certainly think something would have been said something at that point! If the staff knew that the town lacked a necessary approval by the county and said nothing, then there is a big time staff problem.
Carole Campolo September 22, 2012 at 12:54 AM
I am constantly amazed, as a former public management professional, how East Hampton Town government leaks worse than any New Orleans levee. Ms. Foster talks about how unfair it is for a Town Board member to ask town staff actually to perform their jobs. By the way Ms. Foster, staff that leak memos are clearly not professionals. This kind of conduct illustrates very lax and incompetent management at the department head level. And incompetence surfaces in an incident such as this, where multiple departments with so-called expert staff reviewing the RFP and the process,did not obtain this routine approval. So now we have some town staff doing the classic CYA. Instead of encouraging taxpayer funded town staff to engage in unethical conduct, by accepting privileged communications Ms. Foster, you should be doing everything in your power to help these poor people who have had to endure years of government inaction (perhaps inaction during the years that you were in office?) rather than join forces with the contemptible Messrs. Bellone and Schneider. These home onwers need relief. Farmers who cannot work the soil (the best in the world or not) properly because of flooding, need relief. They don't need lawsuits,or butt covering by public servants. And they certainly don't deserve to be pawns in a game of political gotcha.
Factual September 22, 2012 at 03:28 PM
Sounds like an investigation is coming. Someone needs to held held accountable for illegal disclosures that turn into posts like the one above that attack the character and performance of a dedicated elected official based on a questionably obtained internal correspondence then potentially a biased interpretation of the correspondence. I have read in the Independent a while ago town employees have already been brought in for questioning by law enforcement on several other matters and I have a strong suspicion some of the same characters have their hands in this situation also. Leaks, misinterpretation, intimidation, false allegations, targeting, etc. has no place in legitimate government and at some point it must be stopped, or at least exposed for what it is. Now we have a case where something positive (alleviating a flooding problem for dozens of property owners) that has been attempted by responsive elected officials has become what appears to be a conspiracy to attack those willing to do something. That conspiracy seems to stretch from a local political zealot right up to the Democrat County Executive. I would guess we have Democrat Town Board members, legislators, county attorneys, top county staffers and maybe the County Executive all involved. Very intriguing.
Debra Brodie Foster September 22, 2012 at 07:29 PM
I feel that the point I was making, that professional staff are seen as insubordinate and and punching bags to hide behind, has been made by the accusations and paranoia in the comments above. The issue here is to have the Town Board and the County Planning Department representatives sit down and COMMUNICATE so the taxpayers and The Hansom Hills residents will be well served. BTW, I DID NOT get any memo from the professional staff.
truth 2011 September 22, 2012 at 10:26 PM
I believe from what was written in the newspapers the Town was working with the County and had even met with the County - so why the notice of a lawsuit? Politics perhaps? When I read: "However, in a memo from the Town Attorney BEFORE the project had even begun, it was pointed out to her that Suffolk County approval Was necessary." ...what am I and others to think? You obviously had the memo in your possession or was allowed to read it. I believe you may not have received the memo directly from the professional staff. I would guess the professional staff gave it to an elected official and that elected official gave it to you. So in other words a privileged communication from a Town Attorney to a Town Board member was given to probably a second Town Board member in confidence, and that second Town Board member passed it on to you to be use for political purposes -- even worse. Also,no one is hiding behind anyone. If staff act unprofessionally or illegally they should be held accountable. The lack of accountability in the past helped cause the financial disaster that brought down the previous administration. If someone held certain staff accountable back then, things may have turned out differently in 2004 to 2009 -- you should know because you were there for part of it. So, in the spirit of full disclosure, who did give you the memo or showed you the memo? Answer it now, or maybe answer it later - under oath.
Debra Brodie Foster September 24, 2012 at 03:16 PM
In the spirit of full disclosure, Who are you?
Debra Brodie Foster September 24, 2012 at 03:23 PM
In the spirit of full disclosure, who are you?
David Buda September 24, 2012 at 04:33 PM
Deb, you took the words right out of my mouth. Why is it that very few of the "regular contributors" have the courage of their convictions and the personal fortitude to be willing to identify themselvess by signing their real names? David Buda
Carole Campolo September 25, 2012 at 03:10 AM
Why do you request Facutal to reveal his/her identity? Why not Sandman or anyone else that chooses to use a pseudonym? Many people rightly feel threatened if they used their own name. Especially if they own a local business. I would prefer if posters used their own names. I think it would elevate the conversation and I just like knowing that people can stand behind their convictions.But, I as well as you David and Ms. Foster, have the luxury to be able to use our own names. But, the thread is what it is. For what it is worth Ms. Foster, I have thoroughly enjoyed our exchange on this forum.
Debra Brodie Foster September 25, 2012 at 01:29 PM
Me, too, Carole. I have heard that you were once a registered Democrat... so maybe there is hope for you yet, girl.
Factual September 29, 2012 at 09:10 PM
I want to ask Ms. Foster why the Environmental Assessment Review Form prepared by the Planning Department staff and used to write the resolution by the Town Attorney for the Town Board approval of the project did not seem to alert the Town Board to the need for County Government approval? That form has specific questions about all the approvals needed. Did the staff not do the leg work required of them with respect to alerting the Board what was needed? Doesn't the staff always prepare the form and do the leg work on a project like this? What say you Ms. Foster?
Factual September 30, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Was the Environmental Assessment Review Form accurately and completely prepared by the Planning Department staff? Ms. Foster, please call your friends in the Planning Department and let us know. If the County approval was noted on the form then the question is answered. If it wasn't, then someone did not do their job to fully inform the Town Board. Please find out and let us know.


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