Time to Review the Trustees

East Hampton Town Trustee Pat Mansir’s surprise resignation last week presents a good opportunity to make some general observations about the town’s oldest continuous government body and how it must now change to keep up with the times.

The trustees date back to the early Colonial era and, at that time, were East Hampton’s only local government. Authority was conferred by charters handed down with British crown authority. The most important, the Dongan Patent of 1686, established the Trustees of Freeholders and Commonalty of the Town of East Hampton, whose successors are the trustees we now know.

Ms. Mansir’s departure brought the trustees’ ranks to eight members, down from its customary nine. This is a step in the right direction, we believe, because of the unwieldy nature of an elected board of that size. The nine-justice Supreme Court stands in contrast; its members serve for life but don their robes only after presidential nomination and an exhaustive Senate confirmation process. The East Hampton Town trustees are elected in one fell swoop, which asks the average voter to do the impossible: Make an informed choice among as many as 18 candidates. As a result, there have been plenty of duds and no-shows among the trustees over the years, as voters have had to resort to following the party line or picking a candidate whose last name sounds as if it is from a local fishing family. It would be far better to stagger their terms, so that only a portion of the seats would be in play in any one election.

The trustees should also take this moment to assume a more professional operating procedure, sticking to agendas and empowering its chosen clerk to rein in disruptive members in the interest of decorum and everyone’s time. More staff might help, too, as would a clearer definition of what a trustee’s job entails. Ms. Mansir’s resignation indicates that the trustees could use a tuneup, but they are definitely worth keeping around.