The pending one-month suspension of Larry Penny, the East Hampton Town director of natural resources, on what may be exaggerated charges, does not bode well for the environment here. Though Mr. Penny has the right to a hearing to contest the claims, the outcome appears preordained, and the town board’s move against Mr. Penny seems a precursor to his firing.
Having presented voters with tax cuts cobbled together by tapping money from surpluses, the town board knows it will have to balance the books sooner or later by trimming expenses. This makes Mr. Penny’s income, roughly $100,000 a year plus benefits, a tempting target. That the board’s majority has in the last two years essentially declared themselves at war with environmentalists provides ample reason for concern that motivations beyond Mr. Penny may be at play.
If the board acts quickly to solidify the Natural Resources Department in his anticipated absence, however, most fears would be allayed. The town board needs to name a temporary, qualified replacement to take Mr. Penny’s position should the suspension come to pass. If the board does not do so, it will become evident that the majority views the Natural Resources Department as an afterthought or impediment. And, if Mr. Penny is gone for good, the stakes become much higher.
If the town board is being straight with the community about what it sees as flaws in Mr. Penny’s job performance and fires him, it must quickly hire someone whom it believes will do a more effective job of protecting our natural resources. And, if it’s even just for 30 days, someone must always be watching out for the town’s environment.