A plan to buy jackets with a town logo for every full-time East Hampton Town employee, perceived as a morale-boosting reward by Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, who initiated it without consulting the rest of the town board, has not been universally well received at Town Hall, where a number of employees have balked at the idea of wearing what they view as a uniform.
The fleece-lined windbreakers, which were to be monogrammed with employees’ names and include some sort of town logo and other identifying information, would cost $7,000, according to Len Bernard, the town budget officer.
Town Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, apprised of the plan by employees, has suggested that, with the town budget pared back by necessity over the last years, the money could be better spent, and that any expenditure should be approved by the full town board. She has requested a discussion of the issue at an upcoming work session.
Mr. Wilkinson said on the phone yesterday that in a year when the budget can accommodate such a purchase, he “wanted to surprise the employees with a gift” in recognition of how different departments pulled together in the wake of several calamitous weather-related events, from Superstorm Sandy to blizzards.
“For the first time, I think the town employees acted as town employees,” he said. “Everything came off extremely well; everyone pitched in. So it’s an opportunity to reward them in some form. I never intended it to be a uniform.”
Mr. Wilkinson’s two terms have been marked by conflicts between the administration and town employees — “subordinates,” the supervisor, a former human resources executive at Disney, has called them — as well as staffing cutbacks and ongoing criticisms, particularly of the Planning Department, often from Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, Mr. Wilkinson’s deputy supervisor.
In an e-mail exchange between Ms. Overby and Mr. Wilkinson, on which several others, including town board members, were copied, Ms. Quigley said she accepted Mr. Wilkinson’s prerogative “as our town leader” to provide a perk to town employees “and to encourage pride in belonging to this group” without consulting the rest of the town board.
The jackets, she said, were “not uniforms but a badge of honor representing membership in the team that is East Hampton Town government.”
Reactions from employees, who were asked to provide their sizes and the correct spelling of their names for monograms, were immediate. Some of those not enamored of the idea dubbed the coats “full mental jackets” or speculated that Mr. Wilkinson might have global positioning satellite devices installed in them in order to track employees’ whereabouts.
Others, according to Mr. Wilkinson, had a positive response. As of yesterday, he said, all of the town departments had responded to the request for employees’ information with the exception of the town assessors and Planning Department.
The supervisor said yesterday that he was “amused at the cultural differences. Where I come from, the jackets are simply a source of pride. It’s a brand, whether it was Disney or ABC or Capital Cities,” he said, referring to his former employers, “or the fire department or the ambulance squad.”
“I don’t know how the residents would feel about employees that don’t want to wear a town jacket,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “That bothers me.”
Employees’ loyalty and morale should not be based on their experiences under any particular administration, he added, because most workers’ tenure far exceeds that of any elected officials. “You are not going to ever get 100-percent satisfaction,” the supervisor said.
Ms. Overby said this week that if the town has an extra $7,000, buying jackets might not be the priority. For instance, she said, money for uniforms or other work clothing for Sanitation Department employees has not been included in the budget since 2010. “There may be real need for some departments to have work clothes . . . supplied by the town,” she wrote in an e-mail discussing the issue. Logoed town jackets could be made available for purchase by employees, she suggested.
Mr. Wilkerson said yesterday that the coats cost around $30 each and that, depending on how many employees responded— about 200 would be needed. The police department is excluded.
Mr. Wilkinson said he had asked Mr. Bernard last fall to include money in a contingency line in this year’s budget for the purchase, but had acted “spontaneously” to set it in motion after not getting around to it before now. “I’m used to doing things that way,” he said yesterday. “I understand that in this position you have to consult with people,” he said, but, he explained, he had wanted the jackets to be a surprise, until he realized the employees had to be asked about their clothing size.
Ms. Overby questioned the cost of the jackets — $15,000 was another figure mentioned — and whether a vote of the entire town board was needed to expend money from a contingency budget line.
“I’m frustrated; I’m disappointed,” Mr. Wilkinson said yesterday. “The surprise is gone. The intent was pure; it was a simple transaction.”
“People make controversy out of anything.”