Cantwell and New Board Have Big To-Do Lists

Morgan McGivern

       A new leader, Larry Cantwell as town supervisor, takes the helm today at East Hampton Town Hall, with two new town board members, Kathee Burke-Gonzalez and Fred Overton, to be sworn in with him.

       After coffee and cake is served at 9 Thursday morning, officials will be sworn in beginning at 9:30 and, after a break, the board will commence its organizational meeting.

       Though he talked in some detail early this week about some of the items he has penciled in to the top of a to-do list, Mr. Cantwell said that overall, it is crucial to set the right tone at Town Hall, radiating outward.

       “If I can do one thing,” Mr. Cantwell said, “it would be to increase the level of cooperation between the town board and the departments of the town, the town board members and the public. We really have to find a new level of cooperation in order to move forward, to strive for a sense of resolving issues as opposed to disagreeing over issues.”

       “We live in a diverse community and there’s going to be disagreement.” But, he said, “I think there’s a lot of agreement on the basic goals for this community.”

       “We want to be stewards of our extraordinary natural environment, have compassion for people who are less fortunate and those that are new to our community, and support the working-class families, the backbone of so many of the things that we do.”

       “We should find a way to agree on what the problems and solutions are.”

       The need to compromise, he said, will remain foremost in his mind, “and I would ask the community to agree” to do so as well, Mr. Cantwell said.

       Agendas for town board meetings will be made public two days ahead, Mr. Cantwell said, and last-minute, or “walk-on,” resolutions not tolerated unless time-sensitive and agreeable to the whole board.

       Mr. Cantwell declined to provide a sneak preview of appointments he will make at the board’s organizational meeting at Town Hall today, although he revealed that Colleen Reynolds, an East Hampton Press reporter who has been covering East Hampton Town Hall, will become his secretary.

       It falls to the new administration to appoint one person each to serve a term on the planning board, zoning board of appeals, architectural review, assess ment review, and licensing review boards, as well as several people to serve on the town’s ethics and Fort Hill Cemetery boards.

       The new supervisor announced new town attorney appointments last week.

       “We’re looking to make some organizational changes in how that’s approached,” he said of the departments — Code Enforcement, Fire Marshals, and Building — that have fallen under a Division of Public Safety headed by an outgoing town attorney, Patrick Gunn. Mr. Gunn will stay on only through a transition period, Mr. Cantwell said, and Michael Sendlenski, a former Southampton Town attorney with enforcement and prosecution experience, will be “an integral part” of enforcing the town code.

       Mr. Cantwell has already met several times with the new East Hampton Town police chief, Michael Sarlo, who was sworn in on Saturday, and that they “both understand that there’s a level of frustration with the enforcement of quality of life issues, with respect to noise and traffic, and a sense that the peace and quiet of our neighborhoods should be protected.”

       “The enforcement agencies of the town need to work together on a very high level,” he said, “so that people have a sense that the town is being responsive.”

       A high priority of the new board, he said, will be to discuss related matters such as the town’s noise ordinance, taxi legislation, mass-gathering permit standards, and the like.

       And, Mr. Cantwell said, “There needs to be substantial improvement in the administration of the Town Building Department. That office needs to be professional, and the level of courtesy and responsiveness for the public needs to be elevated.”

       Mr. Cantwell said he would seek a state grant for money to properly manage and digitize town records, as East Hampton Village has done. The town has ignored its responsibility to properly maintain records, he said, and, with many paper documents moldering in the basement of the abandoned old Town Hall in a “deplorable” state, “that’s got to be a priority,” Mr. Cantwell said.

       The supervisor said he looks forward to discussing design proposals for the reconstruction of the downtown Montauk beach with the Army Corps of Engineers and Representative Tim Bishop, with whom he has already been in touch, and getting a project completed “as soon as possible.” What the Army Corps might do has yet to be revealed, but, Mr. Cantwell said, “I’ve made it clear that I’m not a fan of rock walls on our beaches.” He said he would seek expert guidance for town officials in evaluating the Corps’ proposals.

       The town’s scavenger waste plant and an ongoing effort to craft a wastewater management plan was another key effort cited by all of the incoming board members.

       Mr. Cantwell’s Democratic running mate, new Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, will serve as the board’s liaison to the Human Services Department, the airport, and the Information Technology Department.

       Among the committees to which she will be assigned is the budget and finance committee. As the sole member of the incoming board with corporate experience, she said, and because of “strong budget experience” honed over nine years as a school board member, “it’s an area of expertise that I have,” she said.

       Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said that within the next few weeks she will meet with Diane Patrizio, who heads up Human Services, and with members of the East Hampton Clericus, who have expressed concerns about a lack of mental health services in the area, and plans to attend a Friday, Jan. 10, meeting on related issues with Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and Senator Kenneth J. LaValle. She looks forward to learning “what services we have out here, and where the gaps are.”

       Also penciled in for the councilwoman’s first week is a meeting with Jim Brundige, the East Hampton Airport manager, who has already taken her on a tour of the facility. Although operation of the airport, and the noise emanating from its users, has been a contentious issue in the town, Ms. Burke-Gonzalez believes that the groups seemingly on both sides of the issues — aviation interests, and those calling for noise abatement — are really “not too far apart.”

       A financial analysis and business plan for the airport, and a maintenance and capital improvement plan, should be undertaken right away, she said, as “there are probably some things to be addressed immediately from a safety standpoint.”

       The new supervisor agreed. “We cannot allow the airport to deteriorate or become unsafe and close,” he said. Determining a funding source for needed repairs is also on his priority list.

       Both Ms. Burke-Gonzalez and Mr. Cantwell said efforts to compile the noise data needed to support the town’s establishment of airport use restrictions must continue, and expressed an unwillingness to accept Federal Aviation Administration grants at this time.

       And, Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said, “I’m looking to start getting to work on code enforcement and overcrowding.”

       She has been “taking a lot of meetings” in the days prior to her swearing-in, she said, with the heads of town departments and with her fellow board members, including Fred Overton, who is the sole Republican on the new board.

       “I’m thrilled to be starting — and what a beautiful place to work,” said Ms. Burke-Gonzalez of Town Hall. She will “be there every day,” and keep office hours, she said.

       For Fred Overton — a new town councilman but certainly not a new face at Town Hall, where he was a town assessor for a decade and then elected as town clerk in 1999 — the new board members have been “very inclusive.”

       “I’m confident that if we can continue working together the way we have during the transition, that we will be a good board,” he said. Among his assignments, he said, will be the Springs Citizens Advisory Committee, the nature preserve committee, the fisheries advisory committee, the offices of the town clerk and town assessors, emergency preparedness, and the town’s fire advisory group.

       The town board already has its work cut out for it, said Mr. Overton, who as town clerk attended virtually every town board meeting. “I don’t have an agenda,” said Mr. Overton. “We have enough on our plates right now,” he said, naming several ongoing “pressing issues” such as erosion, wastewater management, the airport, and zoning matters.

       Mr. Overton will leave the town clerk’s office in the experienced hands of Carol Brennan, his longtime deputy, who won election to his vacated seat.

       The two sitting board members at the midpoint of their terms, Peter Van Scoyoc and Sylvia Overby, both agreed that the quality of life issues about which residents have consistently complained are a pressing task for the board — things “we need to settle before the summer season gets kicked off,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said.

       The councilman said he will announce at today’s meeting a proposed agreement with Suffolk County that would resolve an issue created by the former board, which had a drainage sump dug on farmland over which the county owns development rights.

       “There are a lot of things that are still outstanding that we need to clean up,” he said. Among them is the restoration and use of town-owned properties, such as the historic Duck Creek Farm and the former Boys Harbor camp. “I’m looking to set up a template,” said Mr. Van Scoyoc, creating a way to partner community groups and grant money, “without burdening taxpayers,” to deal with the properties.

       “I hope it’s going to be an administration that pays attention to the community,” Ms. Overby said this week. She is “very excited about our new attorney’s office” and the attorneys’ role in helping the board find effective solutions to problems such as overcrowded housing, or houses rented illegally as summer shares.

       “I think everyone’s going to be working hard; a lot of listening,” Ms. Overby said.

        “You’re definitely going to see a different dynamic,” said Ms. Burke-Gonzalez.

       The board will maintain a meeting schedule that includes three work sessions (on the first three Tuesdays of the month, with the second one held at the Montauk Firehouse) and two nighttime formal meetings, normally on the first and third Thursdays. Those meetings, however, will begin a little earlier, at 6:30 rather than 7 p.m. The first nighttime meeting this month will be on Jan. 16.