A Contentious Discussion

Four full-time officers and one part-timer are assigned to code enforcement.

    With only 17 days remaining to Memorial Day weekend, East Hampton Town’s Ordinance Enforcement and Animal Control Departments are both short-staffed, Patrick Gunn, the town’s public safety division administrator and an assistant town attorney, told the town board on Tuesday.
    Four full-time officers and one part-timer are assigned to code enforcement.  A senior ordinance enforcement officer — “probably the most productive one,” Mr. Gunn told the board — was injured while fighting last month’s wildfire, and could be out of work indefinitely.
    And, he said, an animal control officer will begin a maternity leave soon, leaving just one officer remaining in that department. With a smaller staff, said Mr. Gunn, “The same level of service isn’t possible.”
    “We’re working at full capacity all the time,” he said.” I’m telling you, last summer’s numbers are not sustainable.” Summers bring more code violations and a heavier workload.
    The division’s budget does not contain extra money for new hires, Mr. Gunn said. “I’m not asking you for anything specific,” he told the board. “I’m just telling you what the facts are. I’m just asking you to evaluate the situation and decide what you want to do.” To replace the two employees who will be out over the summer would cost about $22,000, he said, or possibly less.
    His presentation sparked a contentious discussion among board members.
    “I’m not convinced of the shortcomings,” said Supervisor Bill Wilkinson. “You don’t issue 680 code enforcement violations through stealth code enforcement officers,” he added, referring to the number of summonses racked up against the Surf Lodge in Montauk last year. “There’s real stuff going on.”
     “I’ve heard repeatedly from the business community, from the residents, that they need more code enforcement,” said Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc. Councilwoman Sylvia Overby agreed, saying she would vote to provide enough resources to code enforcement so that all the bases could be covered and nothing “overlooked.”
    Councilwoman Theresa Quigley took umbrage at that comment. Ms. Overby said she had not meant to imply any complaint about the Code  Enforcement Department. Code enforcement is key to the “quality of life” issues residents are most concerned about, she said.
    But, Ms. Quigley said, “I’m entitled to hear and to understand implications.”    “We’re not overlooking anything. . . .” Mr. Gunn said. “Can we cover everything in the entire code? No.”
     “Yes, I’m sure that we can do better, but certainly we’ve taken it and moved it from a completely chaotic, unfocused department to something I’m proud of,” said Ms. Quigley. “There are a million laws that can be violated. The question comes down to, what is the priority? Do we want to have 100 code enforcement officers? I don’t think so.”
     “I have no problem finding another code enforcement officer,” Ms. Overby told Mr. Gunn. “Whether it’s part-time or not.”
    Ms. Quigley continued, warning that her comments were “going to be inflammatory.  But I don’t care,” she said. “What the heck, and I say what the heck because everything I say is inflammatory.”
    The Code Enforcement Department, Ms. Quigley said, is “overburdened by obstructionist activity that doesn’t allow them to focus on their job, and if they could focus on their job without being constantly harassed, then they could get a lot more done.”
    “I will manage whatever resources you give me to the best of my ability,” Mr. Gunn said. Councilman Dominick Stanzione and Mr. Van Scoyoc both praised his department’s achievements. “I want to continue to give you the resources to continually improve the scope of what you’re able to do,” said Mr. Van Scoyoc.
     “Pat is one of the individuals that is managing performance, which has not been done in this town,” Mr. Wilkinson said.
    Mr. Gunn’s report also raised the question of just what the board had meant to authorize regarding the hiring of a new part-time fire marshal. Dave Browne, the chief fire marshal, and Mr. Gunn had requested the addition to the department staff, which had been cut back, at a previous board meeting. Ms. Overby and Mr. Van Scoyoc said they believed the board had agreed to hire a year-round part-timer, which Mr. Gunn said was the request, but Ms. Quigley and Mr. Wilkinson said their intent was to hire someone for the summer season only.