Pragmatic and Positive Step in Town Hall

The hope is that the appointment indicates a new professionalism in how the town does business

    By announcing this week that Len Bernard, the East Hampton Town budget officer, will stay on in what has traditionally been a political post, Supervisor-Elect Larry Cantwell has signaled that he will stress pragmatism over party. While the news is not a big surprise — Mr. Cantwell had hinted about this earlier — the hope is that the appointment indicates a new professionalism in how the town does business.

    Mr. Bernard’s credentials are long. A former town councilman, he was the budget officer during Supervisor Jay Schneiderman’s terms, then moved among several related posts before returning to Town Hall at Supervisor Wilkinson’s behest. By now he knows the ins and outs of town finances as well as anyone. In a spirit of cooperation, he was quick recently to agree to look into a longstanding error in the way the costs for some town projects have been shared by village residents. The stability his remaining in the post will provide will be valuable.

    As the new town board begins work in January, its members should seek other ways to develop a greater degree of long-term, steady capability to key offices. For example, the critically important Building Department and the town attorney’s office have been underserved in recent years. Then, too, departments such as Planning and Natural Resources must be more fully incorporated into policy-making.

    The big question is whether the logical next step, a hired town manager, is a good idea. Given Mr. Cantwell’s 32-year tenure in a similar role for East Hampton Village, this will probably get a meaningful look. There are a considerable number of local government observers who believe the time has come for a top town staffer. On the other hand, there is reason for concern about the increased concentration of authority in one person’s hands. A town manager would be a very big step and may not be a cure-all for Town Hall’s ills. While this idea is being worked out, keeping the best people on the job — and respecting their views — is a sure way to improve local government.