(05/28/2009) After days of clouds and rain, the sky had cleared and the sun was glinting off the harbor last Thursday evening when the East Hampton Town Republican Committee reintroduced its candidates to supporters at a fund-raiser at East Hampton Point. The sunny day, full of the promise of good weather ahead, was a fitting backdrop for an election year kickoff. There is a sense among East Hampton Republicans that the losses of the past six years are behind them, and that there is a bright new day ahead.
“A big priority is rebuilding trust in this town. Trust in government is gone,” Bill Wilkinson, their supervisor candidate, said in an interview Tuesday morning with his town board running mates, Theresa Quigley and Dominick Stanzione. “The only way I can think to do that is to bring in a really competent group of professionals that can run this town and bring business disciplines to local government,” he said. “This team has tremendous business breadth, tremendous functional depth, and we have little or no political background that would interfere with the business decisions required to get the town on the right financial track.”
“We need to bring professionals in, open it up, be transparent, and give the people an opportunity to help re-engineer government.”
Mr. Wilkinson, a former senior vice president of human resources for the Walt Disney Company, runs W.J. Wilkinson and Associates, a management consulting and executive search firm based in Montauk. Mr. Stanzione is the president of Colonial Capital Advisors in East Hampton, which provides trading advisory services to professional investment managers. He holds master’s degrees in journalism and public administration and was a vice president at Chase Manhattan Bank. Ms. Quigley is a partner in the law firm Farrell Fritz and works out of the firm’s Bridgehampton office.
“It’s the right time for the town to capitalize on this,” Mr. Wilkinson said of his team’s combined skills.
“We have a unique sense of how to see a goal and get to a goal,” Ms. Quigley said. “We’re not seasoned politicians, we’re not in a political machine.”
Tuesday morning, the candidates talked about some of their goals and ideas for the town. The issues, Mr. Stanzione said, are finances, community, the environment, and “operating management.”
“Our platform highlights our commitment to transformation, to transparency, to the democratic process,” he said. “I don’t think we have a bias toward any particular outcome.”
Each of them was motivated to become involved, they said, because they believe people have been shut out of the decision-making process at Town Hall.
“I believe in true democracy, as in everybody should have their say, and our governmental process has been more dictatorial, or less open, than that,” Ms. Quigley said. “I have five kids. I listen. I have to be able to listen, to balance, to share.”
“Decisions were made behind closed doors,” Mr. Stanzione said. “Process, that’s really critical to me. The fact that I have a set of financial skills to bring to the table is as important as process.”
Mr. Wilkinson talked about volunteerism in the last campaign and said he still believes that people are more than willing to pitch in and help the town by sharing their expertise. “There are so many people begging to be asked,” he said.
He wants to hold more town meetings in the evening so that working people can attend them, offer their ideas, and participate in the process. “We don’t shut down ideas because a person of different values brings them up,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “I’ve never found a disparate opinion that I haven’t listened to.”
“That’s informed decision making,” he said.
Two years ago, Republicans raised serious questions about town spending, particularly as it applied to the community preservation fund, and about the town deficit, but the financial documents to back up their assertions were not completed until after the election. Now, with people well aware of the town’s multimillion-dollar deficit and of the fact that the town borrowed from the preservation fund to plug holes elsewhere in the budget, the Republicans are continuing to call for increased fiscal controls.
Although the Democratic candidates, too, are talking about financial responsibility, “the Democratic Party hierarchy has not once come out and questioned the financial performance of this town,” Mr. Wilkinson said.
The Republican ticket supports a freeze on spending and hiring. The candidates said they would sell assets, auction equipment, and halt capital spending if necessary, and that they would conduct energy audits on all town buildings to assure that they operate efficiently. The town might also save money by exploring shared purchasing with other towns or even with local school districts, Mr. Wilkinson said. The Republicans would consolidate the town work force through attrition, not layoffs.
“These people working for the town didn’t create their jobs,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “The town created jobs for them. Shame on us for just saying we’ll lay off workers. Every time you lay a person off, you’re curtailing their income, threatening the education of their kids, their mortgage payments, their ability to stay in this great town of ours.”
Mr. Stanzione was driven to get involved in town affairs when the town proposed legislation that would peg house size to lot size, limiting houses to 12 percent of lot size plus 1,000 square feet. The process by which that legislation was created was “secretive, closed, and critically flawed,” he said. “The key voices of moderation were kept out of the dialogue.”
As a result, he helped start East Hampton Citizens for Fairness in Zoning. “The way it ended up, we had a moderating influence on what was overzealous legislation.”
Mr. Stanzione had suggested at the time that the town prepare a financial impact study on that legislation, “and I was laughed at.”
Mr. Wilkinson compared the town’s reaction to that suggestion to its reaction to Republicans’ suggestions regarding the preservation fund. “In ’07 and ’08 we said if you borrow so far out into the future for C.P.F. money, that revenue stream coming from mortgages in a down economy may not be adequate to make debt payments for C.P.F. borrowing. That’s exactly what happened. Instead of focusing on process, people said we were against the C.P.F.”
“We will be as aggressive an advocate of open space as is fiscally responsible,” Mr. Stanzione said.
The candidates said they do not believe that all preservation fund purchases should be put to a public referendum, but they do believe the meetings of the community preservation committee should be open to the public and televised, and that occasionally some controversial purchases may require public referendums.
They would like resolutions to detail the costs and impact on the budget. Every resolution should say what the original budget was, how much has been spent from the budget to date, how much the action proposed would cost, and what would remain in the budget after, “so each board member understands the amount of money spent,” Mr. Wilkinson said.
“I’d have one more,” Ms. Quigley added, “anticipated balance to complete the job.”
The candidates also talked on Tuesday about “greening” the town code. Ms. Quigley suggested that perhaps the town should do away with a variance requirement if the reason one would be needed is to take advantage of solar energy, for example. People trying to do the right thing in terms of energy consumption should not have to go through a lengthy variance process, she said.
Mr. Wilkinson said the town should explore incentives for non-petroleum energy devices. There are many ways, Ms. Quigley said, to “make the code come up to date for the future.”
The Republicans also vowed to immediately make the Natural Resources Department a stand-alone department, rather than having it be subordinate to the Planning Department. They promised from the first that they would eliminate the fee for resident beach stickers. Democrats subsequently echoed that promise in their own platform.
The G.O.P. candidates also promised to “explore aggressive solutions to affordable housing.” Mr. Stanzione said they would “put the working man in East Hampton at the table in all of our policy decisions.”
Affordable housing goes hand in hand with supporting local businesses, Mr. Wilkinson said. “Business is critical to the survival of East Hampton.” The Republicans would work hard to give local businesses an opportunity to bid on town services, and would favor them whenever possible, he said.
Despite the financial troubles the town is facing now, the candidates have high hopes that things will get better. “We have a town that has the right stuff, and we don’t need to continue on a downward spiral,” Ms. Quigley said. “I have five children whom we have raised here in East Hampton. This hometown thing is not just nostalgia for me. It’s a hometown that is my future. I’m here for my past, my future, and my present.”
“We’re encouraging a design for good government,” Mr. Stanzione said. And Mr. Wilkinson stressed that their message comes from their own convictions and not from the party leadership. “There is no bridle on us,” he said. “This is what we believe, and we learn as we go.”