Now that East Hampton Town Highway Department Superintendent Stephen Lynch has settled in at his new post, it has become apparent that no further action will be taken on allegations that one of the department’s employees acted improperly in using a town truck to remove political signs put up by Mr. Lynch’s opponent before the November election. Letting the matter go gives the impression that East Hampton Town government has descended into a politically lawless operation in which what one does matters far less than who you know — or support.
The matter first came to light at the end of the year, when former Highway Superintendent Scott King, who lost the November election, provided video and other material that appeared to identify one of his subordinates using a clearly marked town vehicle to first run over one of Mr. King’s signs on a Montauk roadside, and then, three weeks later and about two weeks before the election, to remove its replacement. In the second instance, the video shows a male driver, after taking the sign, rapidly backing up on the wrong side of the road, forcing an oncoming private vehicle to swerve into the oncoming lane. As the truck races by the camera, you can for a moment get a glimpse of the driver’s profile.
Mr. King was deeply disliked by some in the Highway Department and was the subject of several grievances, including formal human rights complaints. Very few of Mr. King’s signs were seen on local roads in the lead-up to the voting; now, perhaps, residents know why.
In a Dec. 19 e-mail, East Hampton Town Councilwoman Theresa Quigley identified a Highway Department employee who was interviewed in connection with the video. This was confirmed by the town attorney, John Jilnicki, and Mr. King. There seemed little doubt who he was, but Ms. Quigley’s e-mail went on to say that “it was determined not to go forward with the accusations.” No reason was given, but you can read between the lines. Mr. Lynch, Ms. Quigley, and the three-person town board majority of which she is a part, are Republicans. Mr. King was seeking re-election as a Democrat.
Speaking about it around Christmas, Mr. Jilnicki kicked the can down the road to Mr. Lynch, who, he said, could reopen the case. The newly sworn-in highway superintendent might well be concerned that doing so would turn his work force against him. More to the point, the chance that he would become involved in a fight involving his predecessor — without the town board’s backing — is close to zero. There has been no action so far, and residents should not expect any.
The message to town employees is unmistakable: Support our side, and we will overlook your transgressions. Perhaps things worked this way at East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson’s former corporate employer, Disney, but it doesn’t seem right here. This must be galling to Larry Penny, East Hampton’s soon-to-be-former director of natural resources, who faced exaggerated charges and saw his reputation savaged after he rebuffed the town board’s demands that he retire.
The town board’s decision to decline disciplinary action in the sign-grab affair was wrong. That Ms. Quigley, Mr. Jilnicki, and others did so when they knew the video evidence was in circulation defies belief.