Rethinking the Hamlets

There is precedent for doing things the right way

   In keeping with an agenda-laden effort spearheaded by Councilwoman Theresa Quigley to de-professionalize government and hand policy-making over to politically appointed amateurs, the East Hampton Town Board recently discussed asking the town’s respective citizens advisory committees to develop hamlet studies.
    At a town board meeting earlier this month, Ms. Quigley once again took pot-shots at the town’s highly qualified Planning Department, which would be the usual source of such studies. Instead, she argued that the “people within a hamlet know best” what the future should be. We do not intend to denigrate the important role of the members of these committees, who are sensitive to neighborhood concerns that may not engender enthusiasm among town board members. Rather, it is to say that some matters are best prepared by qualified experts, then presented to the public for review, and second-guessing if need be.
    As Ms. Quigley envisions it, the studies would not be prepared by “the people,” but rather by a handful of individuals appointed by the town board. Such an arrangement could make property-rights ideology and preconceived notions the guiding principles over good sense, expertise, and the collective good. The composition of the woefully imbalanced erosion-response committee recently named by the board is a case in point.
     There is precedent for doing things the right way. When the town’s comprehensive plan was last updated, interested residents did indeed take part; they met over the course of months with the professionals, then, together, a draft was produced. The hamlet studies envisioned in the plan were never completed, but this type of work can only succeed when the town’s best talent — its staff as well as citizens — work in harmony.