Citizens Committees Admonished

One member urges mass resignations to form new advocacy groups

    East Hampton Town’s citizens advisory committees received another smackdown Monday in a letter from Supervisor Bill Wilkinson asking them to curb their advocacy and reminding them that their role was “advisory only.”
    The citizens committees were formed to be the town board’s “eyes and ears” in the community, the supervisor wrote, but recently, he said, some have been overstepping their bounds by creating agendas that “target one individual or business,” e-mailing members to “encourage them to attend court hearings in an attempt to exert influence on how a particular matter is prosecuted,” and writing to judges on matters currently before the court.
    Also falling under the advocacy, as opposed to advisory, heading, the supervisor wrote, committee members were “monitoring and attending planning board and zoning board of appeals meetings in their official capacity [. . .] to give their input on a particular application,” sending letters to planning and zoning board members urging denial of applications, and writing letters on citizens advisory committee letterhead to state legislators seeking “opinion on how to enact certain legislation, implying that the town, in some fashion, supports their position.”
    The last example seemed to be in reference to a letter the Montauk C.A.C. had sent to its town board liaison, Councilman Dominick Stanzione, and copied to State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, and the town clerk. In it the committee, prompted by concern raised by the opening of a 7-Eleven in Montauk recently, requested guidance on how to regulate “formula,” or chain stores, in the hamlet.
    “Such actions by a C.A.C. are beyond the scope of the authority of the C.A.C.,” Mr. Wilkinson wrote. The town board voted on Feb. 28 to once again advise the committees that “such actions are not acceptable” and that the committees “are not authorized to advocate nor to communicate with other agencies in town or outside of town in an official act. . . .”
    The Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee discussed the letter before a huge crowd on Monday night, many of them there to discuss the creation of a new business alliance in the hamlet.
    The supervisor’s reprimand is “not an issue,” Lisa Grenci, the committee’s chairwoman, said. “We can still be very functional.”
    At last month’s meeting, the first that Mr. Stanzione attended as the new liaison, committee members agreed at the councilman’s urging to turn any concerns over to him so that he could take them to the town board. “If Dominick performs, you’ll be heard,” Ms. Grenci said on Monday. “If not, we’ll work another way. We have to give him the benefit of the doubt.” Mr. Stanzione was ill and unable to attend this week’s meeting.
    After Ms. Grenci read the letter aloud, members joked that they might as well adjourn the meeting since there was nothing left for them to discuss. “We’ve been here through five or six administrations and we’ll still be sitting here when they’ve moved on,” Ms. Grenci said.
    “It’s very disturbing to hear this. I don’t know what they’re afraid of in little Montauk,” said Ray Cortell, a committee member. “If they want to pull the puppet strings there’s no reason for us to be here. I find it very upsetting that they’re trying to squelch us; it’s a very sad day for democracy.”
    The following day, a flurry of e-mails followed, with the strongest coming from Larry Smith, another member. The supervisor is correct, he said, “we are just an advisory board with no power, except, evidently, to tell the board of our apparently irrelevant opinions.”
    He suggested that members of the town’s citizens advisory committees “resign in mass” from the town-appointed boards and reconstitute themselves as “citizens action committees.”
    “We can have a Congress of C.A.C.’s that would hopefully represent the best interests of each hamlet in the Town of East Hampton.”
    While the supervisor’s letter resonated after the meeting, the committee had other business on its agenda on Monday, as well. Last month, the group heard an appeal from Ken Walles of the Montauk Memorial Committee requesting support for the veterans’ use of the Montauk green for a three-day memorial service there. Ms. Grenci informed her fellow committee members on Monday that a compromise had been reached between the veterans group and the Montauk Artists Association, which has held a large art fair on the green for the past three Memorial Day weekends. The two groups have agreed that the art fair will go on, but that a section near a memorial and flagpole will be closed off for the veterans’ use.
    A Memorial Day parade will be held on Sunday and other activities will take place on Monday when the art fair is over.