Back in the 18th century, the Town Trustees, who managed the entire town then—now they oversee wetlands, bay bottoms, and beaches—would meet in the Town House, a building that now stands next to the Clinton Academy on Main Street. A couple of hundred years later, the Trustees held their most recent meeting, on Tuesday, November 25, in the same building, just for old times sake.
And they held it in costume, by candlelight, shivering a little in the cold, unheated building.
“We do it just so we look like our predecessors and feel like they did,” said Diane McNally, clerk for the Trustees, a panel created by royal patent in the 1600s and in continuous existence ever since. “With no heat or electricity, they met and managed these wonderful resources that we have.”
This is the third year the board has dressed up in costumes, lent to them by the Historical Society, and met in the Town House. Normally, the Trustees hold their twice-monthly meetings at the considerably more comfortable Town Hall meeting room or at the Trustees’ offices on Bluff Road in Amagansett.
At the special meeting, the women Trustees wore dresses “that covered us from neck to toe,” said Ms. McNally, and the men wore woolen capes. The board’s attorney, John Courtney, donned a tricornered hat in honor of the occasion. Although women have long served on the Board of Trustees in modern times, they would not have served back in 1686, when the Town Trustees were formed, or for many years after that.
The nine-member Town Trustees, one of the two oldest sitting governmental boards in the country, are in charge of all lands in town that have not been divided and put under private ownership, Ms. McNally said. The other oldest board is the Southampton Town Trustees, created by Governor Dongan in 1686.
“We govern the bottomlands of the harbors, the beaches, some roads and some land parcels,” Ms. McNally explained. “For example, we own 49 small lots at Lazy Point, where the resident owns the house and we lease them the land. We also regulate shellfish, moorings and docks,” she said.
The Trustees were the original governing board for East Hampton. Under the Dongan Patent, the town was officially incorporated into the British Colony of New York and given its freedom to rule its own citizenry with the elected Board of Trustees. The patent was signed by the then-governor of the colony of New York, Thomas Dongan. Political governance of the town was passed to the Town Board in the early 20th century by an act of the State Legislature.
At the special meeting last Tuesday, the Trustees dispensed with their usual agenda, and focused instead on taking note of all the things that the 17 committees that carry out the work of the board have been up to. “We wanted this meeting to be fun as well as educational for the community,” Ms. McNally said. The Accabonac Committee, for example, this year coordinated the excavation of the Gerard Drive culvert; reviewed and approved permits for 59 moorings, 10 duck blinds and 50 permits for kayak racks at Louse Point.
The Aquaculture Committee has been working on a research permit for winter flounder stock enhancement and is coordinating with the town’s hatchery on a three-year scallop restoration project.
The Beaches Committee has reviewed applications for eight dune restorations and it also has acted as a liaison with the Natural Resources Department in the protection of the piping plover.