East Hampton Town Planning Board members could make no mistake about where Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, the deputy supervisor, stood when they walked into the meeting room on July 13 and sat down in the audience next to the applicant in a matter before the board. In past practice, there has been a studious separation between the appointed boards and the elected officials who appoint them; this should be maintained.
The matter before the board was complicated, but the details are less relevant than the appearance of meddling. For the record, the board had to decide whether to change the terms by which a commercial subdivision had been approved in 2005. Planning board members were told by the board chairman, Reed Jones, that a legal error had been discovered in the original approval, and he asked them to vote then and there. For some reason, the proposed modification had come from the town attorney’s office, whose lawyers are hired and fired by the town board, rather than directly from the applicant. The standard procedure, in which a property owner seeks changes and a hearing is scheduled, was not followed; the reason why was not explained.
This is not the only recent example of intrusion by members of the town board into the workings of an appointed board. Councilman Dominick Stanzione is reported to have coached the chairman of the architectural review board on what to say during a hearing on a matter the councilman is advocating.
After some heated discussion, the planning board made the change, with the members appointed by the current town board majority voting the way Mr. Wilkinson and Ms. Quigley wanted and those appointed by a prior administration voting the other way. The terms of planning board members are seven years, long enough, the idea is, to allow them to be less beholden to changing politics. The supervisor and deputy supervisor’s involvement suggests a willingness to undermine that wall. It would be far better for East Hampton Town if the process operated without interference.