East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson famously once said, “We are the most transparent.” His point, of course, was that Town Hall during his tenure, in his view, has been going above and beyond the open-government mandate. Perhaps in one sense, if not the one intended, what he said was perfectly true: However loud the clamor and din in local politics, it has always been easy to discern the ideology-before-constituents philosophy behind much of what Mr. Wilkinson does. His motives and beliefs have never been obscured.
But we certainly hope the next town board, when they are sworn in come January, will try rather harder to make East Hampton Town leadership (across party lines) more upfront about what they are actually doing, and that they will honestly dedicate themselves to compliance with the state Freedom of Information Law.
For the past several weeks, we have been writing about some of the yardsticks by which the respective East Hampton nominating committees might evaluate prospective candidates. As the tops of the tickets appear to be solidifying, voters will want to keep tabs on where the hopefuls stand on the big-ticket items: sea-level rise, the rule of law, civility, and the principle of allowing town employees to do their jobs free of political interference. Then, as suggested above, comes the issue of open government: Will a candidate ensure that policy-making is done in the public view, and that the wishes of taxpayers and residents are taken into better consideration?
Consider these areas of concern, from the past few years, relating to open government: Freedom of Information requests unanswered; a code enforcement department that refuses to share details about its day-to-day performance; last-minute circulation of board agendas; hasty and ill-thought-out mass-gathering approvals, and precipitous, highly charged “walk-on” resolutions at town meetings.
As for listening-to-the-public problems, consider: the elimination of leaf pickup, the putative sale of Fort Pond House in Montauk, the lunatic notion of down-zoning the seasonally out-of-control bar crowd at Cyril’s Fish House on Napeague, and the airport decision, which affects thousands of residents across four townships.
Government in the United States, particularly at the town and village level, is a cooperative and collaborative undertaking between elected leaders and those they lead. Have you attended an East Hampton Town Board meeting (or watched one on LTV) in recent years? They are, in our opinion, a prime example of how not to cooperate and collaborate. November’s office-seekers need to do more than simply mouth the phrases “open government,” “commitment to transparency,” and “respect for constituents.”