One Thing or Another

A recent fuss over the membership of the Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee once again brings up the question of precisely what is the purpose of these groups.

Citizens advisory committees are created by town boards, which appoint more or less anyone who expresses interest. A town board member is assigned to attend and report back on matters of importance. In theory, this sounds good. But citizens committees run the gamut. 

The latest dust-up involved the Amagansett committee’s vote to eliminate members who did not, in the voting members’ view, attend enough of its once-monthly meetings. Some of the ousted members protested, and the town board is expected to reinstate them at a meeting tonight.

Over the years, citizens committees have inappropriately sent official-looking letters to other government agencies. At other times, members have bird-dogged development projects they did not like, despite what should be a strict firewall between the town board and its committees and semi-judicial bodies like the zoning and planning boards.

Then there is the question of who the committees represent. They were intended to be a way for town boards to gauge thoughts from far-flung neighborhoods. In practice, however, they too often have become forums for their members’ pet peeves or likes, and hardly representative of anything.

If the committees want to be freewheeling, they need to break off from town control. The committees that want to be part of government need to start acting that way.