Schism on Town Board Deepens

Jeff Bragman laments “the almost supine reaction” of the town in the Duryea’s deal
The Town of East Hampton and Marc Rowan, the billionaire co-founder of the private equity firm Apollo Global Management who bought Perry B. Duryea & Son Inc., the wholesale-retail fish market with dining on Fort Pond Bay in Montauk, have settled a lawsuit. Durell Godfrey

Simmering tension on the East Hampton Town Board erupted last Thursday during a discussion about the town’s settlement with Marc Rowan, the billionaire who bought Duryea’s fish market in Montauk in 2014. 

There was nothing pertaining to the settlement on the meeting’s agenda, but in the public portion David Buda, a Springs resident and frequent critic of the board, spoke disparagingly about the town’s action, which brought to an end several years of dispute over the use of and plans for the property. As part of the settlement, Mr. Rowan, co-founder of the private equity firm Apollo Global Management, will apply to the town’s planning board for restaurant use, legalizing table service where it was technically disallowed.

As he has in the past, Mr. Buda complained that information pertaining to litigation is not aired publicly, nor had the board publicly voted on whether to settle with Mr. Rowan’s corporate entities. The town could be engaged in multiple lawsuits at any given time, he said, and “the vast majority of this litigation occurs out of the public’s view.” 

Councilman Jeff Bragman, who himself has criticized his colleagues with respect to environmental review and other procedural matters, sometimes casts a lone dissenting vote, and often demonstrates a frustration that is impossible to miss, supported Mr. Buda’s contentions. “I’ve been concerned about this settlement since it was first disclosed to me,” he said in what would become a lengthy monologue. “It was never discussed in public. I do want to say, this is a pretty good deal for the other side. I don’t see this as a good deal for the town.” 

Such matters should be discussed and voted on publicly, Mr. Bragman, who is also an attorney, continued. He said he opposed not only the settlement but “the almost supine reaction” of the town in crafting it, which he said “completely greenlights a major restaurant.” 

“I don’t think we fought hard enough for the Town of East Hampton, or for Montauk,” Mr. Bragman continued. Mr. Rowan, one of the wealthiest men in America, will turn Duryea’s into “an upscale, high-society restaurant. I don’t think we have to sit back and salute him in doing that. I want to see some fight here. . . . It does seem to have glided through the board behind the scenes.”

As the other board members listened to Mr. Bragman’s remarks, Michael Sendlenski, the town attorney, asked for the floor. The town has five “very dedicated” attorneys “who work very hard, every day, fighting for the people of the town,” he said, his voice quickly rising. “I cannot sit, and will not sit in this seat and be told that someone in my office didn’t fight hard enough. I won’t sit quietly and let him besmirch my office. . . . I won’t sit here and have people tell me my office doesn’t work hard enough, especially by the councilman who has refused to meet with me.” (Mr. Bragman later disputed that assertion.) 

While three of the five attorneys had recused themselves with respect to the Duryea’s settlement because of conflicts of interest — “my office does it the right way,” Mr. Sendlenski said — he and John Jilnicki, a senior assistant town attorney, were thorough in working toward a settlement that would bring the property “into compliance and order,” he said. “No one is giving them anything.” 

The stipulation of settlement had been circulated to the board, Mr. Sendlenski said, and he is always available to board members. “I really couldn’t sit in my chair and be told my office wasn’t fighting hard enough for East Hampton,” he repeated. “Each board member, with the exception of maybe one . . . knows how hard my office works every day.” 

Mr. Bragman replied that he had “never ducked a meeting with you,” which Mr. Sendlenski disputed. The councilman said that he was not criticizing Mr. Sendlenski or the other attorneys, rather that his comment about “not fighting hard enough” was directed at the board itself. 

“Did you work hard enough on this?” Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc pointedly asked Mr. Bragman. The question went unanswered, and the discussion continued.