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C.A.C.s Should Be Independent

Wed, 12/04/2019 - 12:58

Loring Bolger, the chairwoman of the Springs Citizens Advisory Committee, was reportedly considering withdrawing her name from consideration for next year's committee over growing grievances about the way the committee was treated by the East Hampton Town Board. In Amagansett, some members of that hamlet’s advisory committee have been asking that Councilman David Lys, its liaison on the town board, be replaced. The Springs committee also has sought a new liaison, dissatisfied with the way Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez has represented its views to the rest of the town board. Unfortunately, both groups have forgotten their role as advisers, not decision makers.

The town board appoints members of East Hampton Town’s citizens advisory committees, though essentially anyone who expresses interest is often invited to join. Meetings are open to all, and unlike the official planning, zoning, and architectural review boards, which follow strict procedures set out in state law, citizens advisory committees can operate pretty much how they please. This puts them outside municipal government’s traditional structure and rules, but it can also cause their members to have an exaggerated sense of self-importance, for example, in demanding that the town board bend to their demands.

There is a good argument to be made that citizens advisory committees have never performed as envisioned — that is, as a forum for neighborhood-level local concerns to be brought to light. The Springs group went apoplectic this fall over whether there should be a “the” in the official name of the hamlet. The Wainscott C.A.C.’s work was nearly hijacked for an entire year by some residents’ inexplicable opposition to an underground power cable from the Orsted Deepwater wind farm that might run through the hamlet. And though the committees’ unelected members might mistakenly believe otherwise, they have no more authority in town government than any other residents.

Even if the citizens advisory committees once served a valid purpose, with now instant, on-demand availability of official town meetings on the internet, as well as ubiquitous social media and three newspapers, their usefulness as semiofficial groups is diminished, and there are plenty of other ways for residents to get involved in local government. As neither independent nor having any real authority, the effectiveness of the C.A.C.s is close to nil. Instead, the committees should be broken off from town board control to act as independent watchdogs. In this role, they would be an asset.
Correction: The print version of this editorial incorrectly stated that Loring Bolger had resigned from the Springs Citizens Advisory Committee. She has not.

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