A resolution offered at the East Hampton Town Board meeting on Thursday night ultimately failed when board members requested more time to discuss the move.
Despite being added to the agenda late, Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said the plan came as no surprise to the rest of the town board, as it had been discussed in executive session as early as January.
The resolution to approve the change ultimately failed 2-2. Though Wilkinson and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley are part of a majority-Republican board, Councilman Dominick Stanzione was absent from the dias on Thursday. Democratic Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc had made a motion to table the resolution, which was seconded by Democratic Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, but without support it failed, too.
The situation repeated itself twice throughout the meeting — Resolutions to establish a town audit committee and appoint members, which include two Republican Party members and a resolution for the town to apply for $600,000 in financing to upgrade the sanitary system at the Three Mile Harbor Mobile Park Home also failed. "It got turned down because someone didn't want to talk about it more," Van Scoyoc said after the last resolution.
"I don't object to the concept," Van Scoyoc said of the audit committee. He asked for more time to discuss the appointees. "We have to study it — I forgot," Quigley said.
But the restructuring of the Natural Resources department yielded the most discussion. Audience members, including former councilpeople, said there should have been a public discussion first. Some were under the impression that the planning department was being reduced to just two staff.
In truth, the plan calls for three current members of the planning department to be moved to the new Natural Resources department and combine the town's Natural Resources, Aquaculture, and Community Preservation departments with "a goal of increasing efficiency," according to the resolution.
Former town councilwoman Debra Foster, a Democrat, questioned whether the Sunshine Law had been followed when the board discussed the plan in executive session. Former councilman Job Potter, also a Democrat, agreed. "Any discussion of merging department is clearly not executive session material," he said.
The supervisor said, and Van Scoyoc agreed, personnel were discussed, citing the right to speak behind closed doors.
"This might be a great idea, but previously, we've been burned as a community," Foster said. In 1983, she said Newsday ran a headline, "East Hampton Abolishes Planning Department," and hoped history would not repeat itself. "Everytime there's a Republican majority, they mess with the planning department," she said.
Quigley said the board had restructured the public safety division the same way during the first-half of Wilkinson's administration.
When the board turned to discuss the plan itself, Van Scoyoc said there are some positive aspects to the plan, but there were several issues in need of further discussion. For example, he said he was concerned that land acquisitions would be under the same umbrella as a regulatory body.
Jeremy Samuelson, the executive director of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk, suggested the town board talk to the neighboring Southampton Town that tried to do something similar and was sued.
Councilwoman Overby said she felt the town code might have to be changed to support the resolution, though town attorney John Jilnicki had said otherwise, according to Quigley.
Ultimately, the discussion rounded back to why the resolution was presented on Thursday, when it hadn't been included in the initial packet of resolutions presented at Tuesday's work session. Overby said she didn't realize it was coming up for vote until she received "a whoops, this wasn't in your packet email" on Tuesday afternoon.
Quigley opined that the Democratic members of the board keep wanting to put things off and then they never get done, to which Van Scoyoc remarked, "There are other members on this board than you and Bill."
All of the failed resolutions can be reintroduced at a later date.