A member of a Springs group formed to draw attention to illegally overcrowded housing called on East Hampton Town Councilwoman Theresa Quigley to resign last Thursday, following her characterization of the group as “Nazis.”
For two years, the Springs Concerned Citizens has been asking for more town attention on numerous residences in Springs that it claims are being illegally used as multifamily housing and rooming houses.
After the close of a meeting earlier this month at which residents reported alleged housing code violations and urged the board to investigate them, Ms. Quigley was reportedly heard saying, “This is Nazis.”
“Her comment is appalling and denigrating,” Fred Weinberg said at a town board meeting last Thursday. “It ignores all bounds of integrity and decency. It is intolerable.”
“I call on you, Ms. Quigley, to resign, now, and I call on the other members on the board to demand you resign.” Before doing so, he said, she should apologize. “Then and only then can we move on,” Mr. Weinberg said, to applause.
“I’m not a Nazi. No one on the Springs Concerned Citizens committee is a Nazi,” Mr. Weinberg said. “No one in Springs spies on our neighbors. Their violations are in our face. They are apparent.”
Another speaker at the meeting, Joan Baum of Springs, noted that Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson had recently asked a speaker not to use the word “shit,” but had not reacted to the use of the word “Gestapo” by Tina Piette, a Springs resident who said she was uncomfortable with the Springs Concerned Citizens reporting alleged code violations.
Inflammatory language is “cheap shots in the place of reasoned discourse,” Ms. Baum said. “We need you to address the volatile issue that keeps coming before you,” she told the board.
She said she had earlier in the week observed a court proceeding over housing violations. The presiding town justice, she said, had expressed frustration with continued delays in adjudicating the matter. “What you have are long stretches . . . that involve continued or renewed violation of the law,” Ms. Baum said.
David Buda, a leader of the citizens group and of what he is now calling the “Unoccupy Springs” movement, reiterated a request for the board to hold a summit on illegal housing at which all involved — residents, town department heads, police, and so on — can discuss the issues. “Here goes nothing,” he prefaced his remarks, noting it was the third time he has made such a request of the board.
Mr. Buda spoke to the board again at a work session on Tuesday, saying he was going to “take a different approach.” The town’s code enforcement office is “understaffed, undervalued, and even underpaid,” he said. But while housing code violations can be difficult to assert, he added, other code violations are easier to ascertain, but are “being ignored.” He exhibited a display of photos of illuminated signs at a variety of locations that, he said, are prohibited under the town code.
After taking heat over her comment about the Springs group, Ms. Quigley was also questioned last Thursday about her comments at a board work session regarding a memo she received from Marguerite Wolffsohn, the town planning director.
The councilwoman had received a query about clearing restrictions from Deena Zenger of the Country School, which is on leased town property, and sent Ms. Wolffsohn some questions about regulations and policies.
Several e-mails back and forth contain questions and answers about the applicable sections of the town code. At one point in the exchange, Ms. Wolffsohn copied Bob Schaeffer, a member of the planning board assigned to oversee applications regarding properties in Wainscott, where the school is located.
Ms. Quigley questioned why Mr. Schaeffer was included. She told the planning director she was not advocating on Ms. Zenger’s behalf.
After bringing up Ms. Zenger’s questions at a March 3 board work session, and being asked by Councilwoman Sylvia Overby for a copy of the e-mail exchange, Ms. Quigley said she would “rather not circulate it . . . because it was rather disrespectful.”
“I got really crazy information back,” she said, calling the e-mail discussion “unacceptable.”
Her comments at the public session prompted Ms. Wolffsohn to send a memo to the entire town board, with a copy to the town personnel director, expressing concern over “public accusation of wrongdoing without supporting evidence (and without presenting an opportunity to respond).” She asked the board to “quickly clarify the issues discussed with respect to my job performance in an equally public manner, so that we can move beyond any misunderstandings.”
She said she had answered Ms. Quigley’s questions “to the best of my ability,” with no “intention to be insolent or rude” and that the e-mails “appear to have been misunderstood.” Ms. Quigley’s comments, she said, made in public at a meeting that was broadcast on LTV, “are damaging to my professional reputation and my ability to carry out my duties as a town department head.”
“This is a nice little game here,” Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said when Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc said he would like to bring up the subject before the public at last week’s meeting.
Mr. Van Scoyoc read Ms. Wolffsohn’s memo aloud. “After reviewing the e-mail exchange, I would like to set the record straight,” he said. “I believe Ms. Wolffsohn’s responses were not rude or in any way unprofessional.”
Mr. Wilkinson interrupted him. “I want everybody to understand that that is your opinion,” he said. “That is Peter Van Scoyoc’s opinion about what is appropriate as far as supervisor-subordinate relations are concerned.”
“I found the tone of the e-mail to be insubordinate, as did Ms. Quigley,” Mr. Wilkinson continued, saying his judgment is based on 30 years “with corporations doing just this thing.”
Last year the supervisor circulated a memo to town employees warning them not to be insubordinate. “One has to understand that there is a supervisor-subordinate relationship, and the subordinates have to do whatever they can to ensure that the supervisor gets the answer, even if the supervisor isn’t asking the appropriate question.”
“This is something that I judge from what I consider to be my core competencies,” Mr. Wilkinson said.
Ms. Overby said she agreed with Mr. Van Scoyoc. “I think it is hard to divine tone in an e-mail,” she said.
“The subordinate has to think of that . . . when they’re corresponding,” Mr. Wilkinson said.
“I have no intention of apologizing,” Ms. Quigley said. “In town government there doesn’t seem to be any recognition of subordinate-management relationships,” she said.
“I believe that the issue of the e-mail cannot be taken out of context of working for two years with that department,” she said. She said she had not wanted to elaborate on her initial comment on the e-mail at the earlier work session, but had been pressed to do so by Ms. Overby.
“Now it’s public. Whatever. It’s fine,” she said.
“This situation is the result of you bringing up the e-mail, and then characterizing the e-mail the way that you did,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said, asking that the board in the future reserve similar comments about employees for executive sessions.
“I said the e-mail was crazy — that’s what I said. And it was crazy,” Ms. Quigley said.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “This issue was dead until you brought it up. Give me a break.”
“Absolute ridiculousness,” Mr. Wilkinson commented on Mr. Van Scoyoc’s raising the subject. “This is politics.”