Difficult but Important Town Trustee Election

So what do the East Hampton Town Trustees actually do? That might be among the legitimate questions voters here will ask themselves as they look at the intimidating section at the far end of the ballot on Nov. 7, the one with 18 names. Voters need to play close attention, since all nine of the trustee positions come up for election every two years.

The answer is that the trustees, working with other town, state, and federal agencies, set policy on much of East Hampton’s bay and ocean beaches. They handle mooring and dock matters in some of the inland waters. They issue land leases at Lazy Point in Amagansett and operate marine sewage-collection boats in Three Mile Harbor. Lately, they have taken an active role on water quality, supporting data collection in trustee waters. They do not have jurisdiction in Montauk, having lost authority in the 19th century.

The decision about whom to support for trustee should be based on the candidates’ experience, desire to learn and listen, and respect for civility. Unfortunately, in years past, some voters have simply chosen people based on their last names, or by which among them seemed to have the most Bonacker cred. This is a mistake: As environmental problems mount — including the overarching threat of climate change — East Hampton deserves the best trustees possible, not simply those who are bubbier-than-thou or prone to getting too much of their information from online conspiracy mongers. 

Voters need to pay close attention, since all nine of the trustee positions come up for election every two years.

Political affiliation matters relatively little once someone is sworn in as a trustee. Where it may count, however, is in the selection of the trustees’ clerk. If the Republicans get a majority, Diane McNally, an incumbent and former clerk, would almost certainly be returned to the post. If so, it would be largely up to her to rein in the bickering that has preoccupied the trustees, in which she often played a role.

As a whole, the Republican more than the Democratic candidates have avoided talking about the warming climate or even sea level rise. This is evident from their refusal to see the Deepwater Wind offshore turbine project as part of a greater attempt to shift to renewable energy sources in order to reduce carbon emissions. The Republican trustee hopefuls say they favor land-based solar installations, but offer no specifics and look askance at a private company that is willing and able to rapidly deploy offshore turbines. 

Moreover, as the ostensible stewards of much of the town’s shores, the trustees would be looking backward if they did not make coastal resiliency in the face of a fast-changing climate a top priority. This is the single most important argument for retaining a Democratic majority, which is more willing to confront a looming problem that will directly impact the waters and beaches that the trustees are sworn to protect.

Though a number of the other candidates deserve close looks, in alphabetical order, our picks for trustee are John Aldred, Joe Bloecker, Francis Bock, Brian Byrnes, Rick Drew, Jim Grimes, Ms. McNally, Bill Taylor, and Susan Vorpahl.

Starting with Mr. Aldred: He is the former head of the town shellfish hatchery and, as such, deeply involved with water quality and the marine ecosystem. He can be prickly to a fault, but on balance his knowledge would make him a valuable addition to the trustees.

Mr. Bloecker is truly a man of the community. He is tireless in his involvement with the Montauk Friends of Erin and almost never missed a meeting in his three earlier terms as a town trustee. As a Montauk resident, house builder, and former commercial fisherman, he would bring a valuable point of view to deliberations. We disagree, however, with his opposition to an annual beach-driving permit and hope that, if elected, he might come to see the utility of getting a better measure of control on who is using this fragile and increasingly crowded resource.

We urge a vote for Francis Bock because under his current leadership as clerk, the trustees have improved critical relationships with other regulatory authorities. He has also successfully pushed for holding meetings at Town Hall, where they can be televised for broadcast on LTV. Though petty political disputes still mar discussions from time to time, his term as clerk has been an improvement. He is patient and attempts to make sure that all sides are heard.

Brian Byrnes is another incumbent among our picks. He has distinguished himself by his affable nature and dedication to many community causes. He has been a member of the East Hampton Disability Advisory Board and Amagansett Fire Department and volunteers for the East Hampton Food Pantry. He is a strong advocate for trustee authority and history, particularly as it relates to state usurpation of local rights.

Rick Drew, a first-term trustee, is emerging as one of the panel’s most valuable members. He is even-tempered and has both technical know-how from his information-technology career as well as experience on the water both professionally and recreationally. As issues such as sea level rise and water pollution present ever-greater challenges for the trustees, his perspective would continue to prove invaluable.

Jim Grimes is a puzzle in some ways. While he can be disruptive at times, he is knowledgeable on environmental matters and does his homework. When he is playing Mr. Nice Guy, things go well; when he is not, watch out. In a second term as trustee, voters should expect that he would try to be on his best behavior. His background as the owner of a native plants and landscaping business, as well as as a Montauk resident, add useful dimensions to trustee affairs.

In terms of longevity as a trustee, no one among the present group comes close to Diane McNally. She first became the trustee clerk in the early 1990s and is a staunch advocate for tradition and the trustees’ unique authority. As a member of a nine-person board hers will be an important perspective even if she is not in the leadership role. 

 There has been some controversy about Mr. Taylor, who was suspended from his position as the East Hampton Town waterways manager in a dispute about alleged unauthorized removal of fences at Georgica Pond as a hurricane approached in 2016. A former harbormaster, he has from time to time skirted the line between advocate and regulator. However, his abiding familiarity with town government, state regulations, and the environment makes him a valuable resource for the trustees. With Mr. Bock, he was a key architect in remaking the trustees into a group that can produce meaningful action rather than the noise that had characterized previous terms. Past dustups aside, he is a dedicated trustee and should be returned to the post.­

Susan Vorpahl freely admits that she accepted the nomination to run as trustee to honor her father, the late Stuart Vorpahl Jr., who was a trustee at one time and was the trustees’ conscience for nearly his entire adult life, whether in office or not. Her father’s legacy all but assures she will win as trustee on Nov. 7. She will have big shoes to fill, but we believe that she will be up to the task.

The time for pretending that East Hampton — and the world — has not changed is over. We believe that these candidates are the best choices to lead the town trustees forward.