Two East Hampton Town Board meetings this week went from contentious to hostile, with heated exchanges not only between board members, a regular occurrence, but with combative retorts from Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley to criticism directed at them from the audience.
Frustrated residents booed the officials, upbraided them for rudeness, and insinuated that they served only special interests, while Mr. Wilkinson threatened to cut off public comment and Ms. Quigley suggested calling the police.
From the East Hampton Airport and helicopters that plague Southampton Town residents, to overcrowded houses in Springs and what to do about erosion in downtown Montauk, constituents pushed and the board members lashed out, with meetings on Tuesday and last Thursday devolving into loud voices, red-faced yelling, insults, and catcalls.
“I come across with some anger because I am angry,” said John Kirrane of Sag Harbor, one of numerous Southampton Town residents who have been beseeching the board to reroute helicopters which they say are affecting their quality of life. “I have had your trash thrown in my backyard for the past 10 months,” Mr. Kirrane said last Thursday night, calling himself one of “the people who you’re victimizing.”
“To the best of my knowledge I have never seen a town behave like this to its neighbors,” he said. “I’ve never seen the arrogance that started this ignorance. You, Mr. Stanzione,” he continued, speaking to the town councilman assigned as airport liaison, “have refused to return my phone calls.”
He then read aloud the names of New York politicians recently arrested for corruption. “There are many of us on the west side hoping that some of the similar things happen out here,” he said.
“Are you charging corruption on this board?” Supervisor Wilkinson asked him.
“The appearance . . . is that there are special interests out here, that are creating a situation where the good of the people has succumbed to the good of the few,” Mr. Kirrane replied. “Dislike is a mild term,” he said. “Being suspicious of your motives is a gentle way of saying it.”
“Mr. Stanzione,” he went on, “if I understand who directed the traffic over our homes, it was you. And I would just ike you to understand that we know it and we resent it and we will not go away quietly.” The audience applauded. “So I would encourage you, implore you, that whatever special interests are behind the scenes trying to encourage expansion, that you have the courage and the conviction to stand up and say no, we represent the entirety of East Hampton, and if not a fiscal and a legislative obligation to the broader East End, you certainly have a moral obligation to be good neighbors.”
Also last Thursday, Springs residents angry over a perceived lack of action on overcrowded housing — they have been pleading with the board for help for several years now —- found little satisfaction.
“This board is in danger of leaving a legacy of name-calling and inaction on the illegal housing issue,” said Carol Buda. While addressing a number of other issues, she said, the board has not found solutions to the overcrowded housing issue in Springs. “We have quality-of-life issues, school issues, property value issues — we have year-round problems. It’s literally forcing some people out of their homes.”
“We have done exhaustive studies,” Ms. Quigley said.
“There is nobody that focused more on Springs than Theresa Quigley,” Mr. Wilkinson told Jerry Kane, who’d questioned whether she had done enough to research solutions. “In our first term she knew more about Springs. . . . The diagnostics that were done on Springs had never been done before, so do not fault her on her work ethic,” said the supervisor.
“Let me tell you something,” Ms. Quigley yelled. “I was born and raised here. My children were born and raised here. This is my community; I have no idea if it is your community or not, but I know it’s mine. And do not accuse me of not caring.”
David Buda of Springs said progress had been “glacial at best.” When he brought up a house whose owner has been charged with code violations, Councilwoman Quigley walked out, saying she refused to listen to comments about an issue that is before Town Justice Court — although John Jilnicki, the town attorney, said it was appropriate for the board to listen to any comments from the public, though not necessarily to weigh in.
“Leave,” people called out as Ms. Quigley headed down the aisle. She stopped at the end of the row in which the hecklers were sitting and motioned at them with a half-bow before stalking out of the room.
“I live in Springs and I’m still not a Nazi,” Fred Weinberg told the board. His comments, and others from Springs residents concerned about housing issues, had prompted Ms. Quigley at an earlier meeting to liken the residents seeking increased enforcement to Nazis.
“We will cut it,” Mr. Wilkinson said later of the time allotted to hear constituents. “We have been listening for two hours.”
“You’re paid to listen to us,” someone told him.
From the back of the room, Neil Zelentz called out “Boo.”
“Boo to you,” retorted Ms. Quigley, who had returned. “Boo yourself for being so disrespectful.”
“You’re disrespectful,” yelled Mr. Zelentz.
“I’ve never seen such rudeness,” a woman in the audience scolded. “You are a representative of the people. You are extremely rude. You do not listen, and all you want to do is defend your decisions. You are so rude. It is unbelievable. I have never seen this.”
“Trust me, I’m not getting paid enough for this,” Mr. Wilkinson said.
“So quit,” Mr. Zelentz yelled out.
“Basically I have. I’m not running again,” the supervisor said. “Yeah, I should have quit, I shouldn’t have entered the race when you were $27 million in the hole, you were contemplating bankruptcy and you had not one idea what to do. Did you clap when I reduced your property taxes by 17 percent?”
“Pathetic,” Mr. Zelentz, a 35-year Springs resident, called. “And another pathetic thing,” he said, “I voted for you. How stupid I was.”
“Well, you can leave, sir, if you think you’re in the presence of such a moron,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “Why don’t you just leave?”
“Why don’t you just leave?” Mr. Zelentz shot back.
“I am,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “I have eight months left.”
On Tuesday, when Jeremy Samuelson, the executive director of Concerned Citizens of Montauk, challenged Mr. Wilkinson’s motives regarding decisions about erosion control on the downtown Montauk beaches, Ms. Quigley suggested calling the police.
Mr. Wilkinson has advocated doing whatever necessary to protect hotels along the shore, even beyond what the town code allows. He has repeatedly cited figures, the source of which he has declined to identify, regarding how much the motels contribute to the local economy.
“How much money does Ditch bring in?” Mr. Samuelson asked Tuesday about the Montauk beach that is now closed due to severe erosion.
“What are you saying?” Mr. Wilkinson said.
“I’m saying that the illegal revetment at the trailer park just screwed Ditch,” Mr. Samuelson said. Though Mr. Wilkinson asserted that the addition of more rocks to a revetment in front of the Ditch Plain trailer park had no effect on the scouring at the public beach (reported separately in this issue), town officials are investigating the situation. Mr. Samuelson claims that the revetment has been illegally doubled in size, and must be connected to the extreme erosion nearby.
Mr. Samuelson also protested at the time allotted to Steve Kalimnios, an owner of the Royal Atlantic motel on the Montauk beach, at the meeting on Tuesday.
“Just how many fund-raisers did you have at Steve’s?” Mr. Samuelson asked Mr. Wilkinson.
“Don’t give me your little snotty remarks,” retorted the supervisor, calling Mr. Samuelson a “lobbyist” for C.C.O.M.
East Hampton Town Board meetings can be viewed online at ltveh.org