Push for Town Manager

Study cites improved efficiency and cost savings
Libby Hummer of the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons appeared before the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee on Monday to argue in favor of a professional town manager for East Hampton Town. Janis Hewitt

    Representatives from the League of Women Voters who appeared before the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee on Monday night made a push for a town manager, which, they said, would free town board members from day-to-day minutiae and allow for a reduction in their salaries. The league conducted a yearlong study that it says proves that hiring a town manager would not only allow East Hampton Town to function more efficiently but would also be cost effective in the long run.
    According to the league’s research, forming a new department for the town manager would cost about $500,000. A town manager’s salary would be upward of $100,000 a year, depending on the person’s experience; an assistant would be required at a cost of about $50,000 a year, and a secretary or other office workers would be needed but could be recruited from other departments.
    “Town government has become so complex and the budget is huge and will continue to grow over the next 10 years. It requires a professional administrator,” said Libby Hummer of the league. “Many towns will soon be grappling with this,” she added, noting that only two other towns in Suffolk County have a town manager. 
    East Hampton Town Councilwoman Julia Prince, the town board’s liaison to the committee, agreed that a town manager would be more effective in handling the daily workload. “If that load was lifted we would be able to take less salary and spend more time in the town with the people,” she said.
    Larry Penny, the town’s natural resources director, who was at the meeting to address the health of Lake Montauk, agreed with Ms. Prince, saying a town manager would reduce redundancies. “It gets very confusing. There is no one to coordinate all the departments,” he said, and later added that a professional town manager might help the town more easily obtain permits from the State Department of Environmental Conservation.
    A town manager would have the power to hire and fire, Ms. Hummer said, adding, “It would be difficult for him or her to be effective if they didn’t have that power.” A manager should not be a Civil Service employee, who would be protected in that capacity, and should be nonpartisan so as not to promote discord when a new administration is elected, she said.
    “The town manager would be apolitical because the position wouldn’t work if they were not,” Ms. Hummer said, adding that a town manager would serve at the direction of the town board and that the elected town board and supervisor would make all final decisions.
    “Their job is to legislate,” Lisa Grenci, the committee’s chairwoman, said of the town board members. “Most of them have other jobs anyway. They wouldn’t have to do the day-to-day stuff and would only have to go in for two days a week for meetings and brown bag sessions.”
    It was noted that the salaries of East Hampton Town Board members are higher than in some other towns. Members of the committee said that elected town board members might be reluctant to give up control or power to a professional town manager, and suggested that it should be a campaign issue this election year.
    “Make the town understand it and make the voters understand it,” said John Chimples, a committee member.
    “It might not happen overnight, and it might not happen in one election. And it will take more than one term to show a savings, but there will be savings,” said Ms. Hummer, who was asked to come back in a few months with more statistics.
    In other news, Mr. Penny told the committee that several ponds have been made around Lake Montauk in recent years to catch road runoff and sediment. The town is measuring the quality of water coming out of all the culverts and entering the lake. Data are being collected by the Cornell Cooperative Extension that will show whether the lake’s high coliform levels are due to humans or animals such as geese, raccoons, dogs, or deer, Mr. Penny said.
    Much has been made lately about the health of the lake. The Lake Montauk watershed committee has been reinstated with new members to study its conditions. Some environmentalists say the lake’s eelgrass has been dying off due to overuse, road and storm runoff, leaking septic systems, and development around the lake, which affects shellfish and other native plant life.
    “Lake Montauk still has eelgrass, not a lot, but more than some other areas,” Mr. Penny said, adding that recent eelgrass plantings in the lake did not take.
    The worst area is in the southern part of the lake, where water is more stagnant, he said, adding that a thorough dredging would help. The Army Corps of Engineers is slated to dredge part of the lake up to about Star Island in 2013, he said, explaining that if the town could raise enough money it could pay to have the dredging continued all the way to the lake’s south end. A patch job now could jeopardize the 2013 dredging, he said.
    Jay Fruin, of the advisory committee and the lake watershed committee, lives on East Lake Drive and said the lake has a new problem as transients are anchoring up for days at a time in their boats. Although the lake and all town waters are no-discharge zones, he said he is worried about boaters discharging waste into the lake.
    Members agreed that new no-discharge signs should be posted at the mouth of the lake, and said brochures should be circulated notifying boaters that the town runs a pumpout boat in and will pump for free if called. Carl Darenberg of the Montauk Marine Basin said most boaters now know not to dump their waste.
    And finally, members learned that another stop-work order has been issued to the Empire Gas Station in downtown Montauk, which is owned by Empire Import-Export of USA in Riverhead. A stop-work order had been issued in March when it was discovered that three pump stations were installed when only two were permitted. The owners told the town they would remove the third station, only to finish construction on it and add pricing display units. “I expected jackhammers to come out and they ended up hooking it up!” said Mr. Chimples.