Can You Sit and Run at the Same Time?

    Is it wrong for members of appointed boards, such as the planning or zoning boards, to remain on those boards while running for office? The question may prompt a town board discussion of East Hampton’s ethics code.
    “I believe the situation is rife with conflict,” said Beverly Bond, an East Hampton resident, at the board’s work session on Saturday. She also questioned whether candidates should be required to step down from citizens advisory committees.
    Peter Van Scoyoc, a Democratic candidate for town board, is presently on the planning board. He would probably be unaffected by any new regulations, which would likely apply only in future scenarios.
    “Now that the question is before us, we have to look at the code,” said Republican Town Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, who has suggested several changes to the town code and is engaged in an overall review of it. She has said she wants to clarify certain sections of the code and eliminate inconsistencies.
    The ethics code prohibits appointed board members from holding simultaneous membership on political party committees, and enjoins elected members of the town board from serving as the chair or vice-chair of political committees. It does not address members of appointed boards who choose to run for office.
    Ms. Bond, an active supporter of the Republican-majority administration, said her comments were “not coming from a political motivation at all.”
    Jeanne Frankl, head of the town Democratic Committee, who was in attendance at Saturday’s meeting, responded.    “There is a tradition in the town of people who are on the planning or zoning board running for office,” she said. “We think it’s a good thing,” because, she said, candidates bring that experience to the table, and because voters can see how they handle themselves in positions of responsibility before going to the polls. “I don’t see where the conflict would be,” Ms. Frankl said.
    Ms. Bond maintained that those on appointed boards “have a political advantage” over their opponents, since they appear on public television when their meetings are broadcast.  Not only that, she said, but also, while campaigning, candidates are constantly making political statements.
    “Every incumbent is in the same position,” Ms. Frankl said. “We think it’s actually beneficial to the public.”
    “A political advantage is different than the appearance of a conflict of interest,” Councilman Dominick Stanzione commented. 
    Sylvia Overby, another Democrat now running for town board, who has served on the planning board, noted that members of the zoning and planning boards are politically appointed — the elected majority on the town board typically fills expiring terms or empty seats with its own hand-picked supporters. However, she said, “You should check your political affiliation when you get on those boards. You represent the community.” She said Ms. Bond’s comments questioned the integrity of those boards.
    “I’m absolutely comfortable with planning and zoning board members running and continuing to hold their seats,” said Democratic Town Councilwoman Julia Prince.
    It appeared, when the board turned to other matters, that the ethics question had not been heard the last of.