Elections 2013: A Plea for Civility

Prospects for progress on even the most mundane issues is minimized

   “Just hang in there, kiddo” was the parting shot from Supervisor Bill Wilkinson to wrap up a sharp-toned exchange with Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc at last Thursday’s East Hampton Town Board meeting. Unfortunately, this kind of puerile jab is all too frequent among the town’s elected leaders.
    Much of the blame must be placed with the acerbic Mr. Wilkinson, who sets the tone as the board’s titular head. But he is far from alone in pointless, time-wasting ire. His ally on the board, Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, is no stranger to pointed barbs and facile dismissals, and the pair find eager sparring partners in Councilwoman Sylvia Overby and Councilman Van Scoyoc. To his credit, Councilman Dominick Stanzione appears to have supped from a different cup, rarely joining the fray — even in the face of direct affronts from Mr. Wilkinson or members of the public.
    True to form, on Tuesday, the bickering got out of hand. “I feel as if I’m in high school,” Councilwoman Overby said, to which Councilwoman Quigley responded, “I feel as if I’m in grammar school because that’s your level of intellect.”
    This may be good theater for town board watchers, but all the agita has real-world consequences. Absent basic courtesy among elected officials of the sort we were all supposedly taught as children, the town as a whole has suffered. Prospects for progress on even the most mundane issues is minimized. It is fair to say that if the board cannot resolve routine matters in a peaceable and effective way, there is little hope for resolution on truly difficult problems like East Hampton Airport, erosion, climate change, and water quality.
    As the local political committees narrow down their choices for the important town posts in play in the November election, they must put civility at the top of their list of qualifications. Much, if not all, of the rest will flow from the next town board’s willingness to work together.