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Taking Matters Into Their Own Hands

Thu, 11/04/2021 - 10:57


Way back when Jay Schneiderman was East Hampton Town supervisor, he frequently talked about the official citizens advisory committees and the trouble they caused. Now, as Southampton supervisor, he has been involved with the dissolution of the Bridgehampton citizens group and its rebirth as an independent community watchdog. This is probably how it should have been all along.

In East Hampton and Southampton the citizens committees were set up to give each of the hamlets that made up the towns a formal line of communication to the town boards. This was well-intentioned, but in practice, the committees went off in their own directions almost as soon as the first members were appointed. It was difficult for the committees not to weigh in on all sorts of issues and even write to the towns’ planning and zoning boards stating opinions on development plans. This was even though the committees’ job was supposed to be advising the town boards alone and town boards were never to meddle with the work of their appointed board on individual cases, or even show up at their hearings.

They have been valuable in that the committee chairpersons have often kept a close eye on planning within their respective areas and brought projects to public attention very early in the review process. As good as this might be, however, it was not within the scope of their mission.

In case you missed it, the Express Newsgroup reported last month on the back story of the Bridgehampton citizens group’s “mass resignation.” Fifteen members signed a memo to the Southampton Town Board outlining grievances about the town’s lack of response to “numerous advisories and resolutions,” including those to the planning board and zoning board of appeals. As if to make his own point, Mr. Schneiderman did not write back.

Instead, the Bridgehampton group members plan to step out on their own as a civic association. This way, as Mr. Schneiderman put it, they will be free to speak their minds. This is something that might be better for citizens advisory committees more broadly, an effective alternative to their continuing to spin their wheels in the muck of town bureaucracy.

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