Reining In Citizens’ Voices

    With the members of the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee having decided to send their own letter to the town justices, complaining about the pace of action on alleged violations at the Surf Lodge restaurant, the path to strictly curtailing of its activities may have been greased.
    As we understand it, the citizens committees in East Hampton Town were devised as conduits by which the town board could hear about neighborhood and hamlet concerns. It is not surprising that some of the committees, Montauk’s foremost among them, have become activist in their own right, taking steps that have sometimes miffed the elected and career officials on Pantigo Road.
    Several successive town boards have had problems with the way these committees have functioned, but perhaps none more so than the current Republican majority. While Montauk simmers over the wild success of the Surf Lodge, as well as the crowds at Solé East, Ruschmeyer’s, and the downtown bars, an insurrection is brewing among members of the Wainscott committee over air traffic and, most recently, the short-sale of the town’s half-interest in the Poxabogue Golf Center. Town board members could be forgiven for wanting to make it all go away, but this would be a mistake.
    The town board apparently has asked its lawyers to find a way to tighten controls on the committees. This could well result in a command that the town board vet all external communication. This has been heard before, and would seem reasonable if the board appeared less antagonistic toward the views of the citizens on these committees. Unfortunately, recent events have shown that when committee positions are at variance with those of the town board, what the committees’ members have to say is dismissed.
    In the end, it would pointless for the committees to be subservient to the town board. Civic involvement of this kind is intended to be outside the confines of a government that tells participants what to say, to whom, and how to say it. Independence in the form of new stand-alone groups beholden to no one could well be the best direction for the future.