Open Meetings, Open Agendas

Mr. Cantwell has said he will see that agendas are circulated at least two days before each meeting and work session

    A practice that East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell described at the first meeting of his tenure would be a simple fix to a fundamental problem of the previous administration, which frequently added resolutions on both routine and controversial matters to meeting agendas at the last minute and without public notice.

    Some of the more notable instances of this were several airport matters, scheduling a hearing for zoning changes at the behest of the Amagansett 555 developers, selling town land to a Montauk motel owner, and an apparently punitive audit of the town’s Human Resources Department.

    Also troublesome was the previous town leadership’s withholding of meeting agendas entirely — with the unfortunate exception of a private email sent to key sympathizers — until moments before meetings were to convene. Mr. Cantwell has said he will see that agendas are circulated at least two days before each meeting and work session.

    State open meetings law requires only that meetings be announced in advance so that members of the public can attend if they so choose. The law is also specific about what constitutes a meeting and what records must be kept, but it has little to say on the subject of agendas. It is clear, however, that prior distribution of a list of subjects to be covered is both standard practice and good government. A two-day rule, such as Mr. Cantwell has proposed, would keep interested parties — and minority party members — in the loop. This shift toward a more open Town Hall is to be commended.

    A corollary is that the board should decline to hear requests for mass gathering permits that do not meet the required application time frame. Those planning large events, which have in some cases proved controversial, should be expected to provide materials in a timely manner; they should be aware that they can no longer be the beneficiaries of limited scrutiny by town officials and the public, which occurred when late requests were considered. If there is time to plan a big party, there is time to get an early okay.