Changes rattle some East Hampton Town Board members

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After a year of tumult, infighting and stressed relationships in town government, the East Hampton Town Board held its annual reorganization meeting on Tuesday and there were some edgy moments to start off 2009.

Supervisor Bill McGintee did not give the customary State of the Town address even though the town has sunk into a more than $12-million deficit in the 12 months since his last address.

Councilwomen Pat Mansir and Julia Prince both voted “no” at the session on otherwise routine annual salary resolutions for several town staffers. Both said their “nay” votes were spurred by one resolution from Mr. McGintee for the reappointment of budget officer Ted Hults. The four council members last summer called for Mr. Hults to be replaced, as the extent of the fiscal disaster was just becoming clear.

“There’s just too many questions left unanswered about how this happened to leave him in there,” Ms. Mansir said after the meeting. “He’s a nice man but this town has gone down the tubes financially and it was completely concealed from the board.”

Ms. Prince also voted against re-upping the town’s contract with its financial consultants, Capital Advisors. She noted that the group had allowed a bond application to go through in 2008 with a financial statement that grossly misrepresented the town’s fiscal situation. The financial statement was prepared by Mr. Hults’s office and was sent out with a declaration that it had been reviewed by the Town Attorney’s office—which was not true and led to Town Attorney Laura Molinari’s resignation.

Prior to the reorganization meeting, Mr. McGintee reshuffled the assignments of the four other Town Board members, removing some from roles they had held for a decade or more.

Among the notable reassignments, Councilwoman Julia Prince, the only member of the board from Montauk, was removed from her position as liaison to the hamlet’s Citizens Advisory Committee after just one year in the role. She was replaced by Councilman Pete Hammerle, who lives in Springs and had been the CAC’s liaison before 2008.

“I am upset,” Ms. Prince said this week after being informed of the reassignment. “If it was a matter of policy that everyone was moved around each year, then I would understand. But that is not the case.”

Montauk CAC chairwoman Lisa Grenci said on Monday that many members of the committee were irate that Ms. Prince was no longer to be the official liaison to the hamlet.

“They’re very ticked off,” Ms. Grenci said. “She lives in the community, she knows the issues here and understands what the people here want. That’s why she was elected. I don’t know why he would make that change after one year.”

Both Ms. Prince and Mr. Hammerle carried all of Montauk’s election districts in the 2007 election. Mr. Hammerle was the board’s liaison for Montauk for several years before Ms. Prince was given the assignment last year—her first on the Town Board.

Ms. Prince said she does see an upside to the reassignment.

“The silver lining is that Montauk will now have two voices on the Town Board because I will still attend every meeting,” she said. “Montauk deserves two voices, actually. They are that passionate.”

Ms. Prince has been officially designated the liaison to the town’s westernmost hamlet, Wainscott, which had long been the realm of Councilwoman Pat Mansir. She was reassigned by the supervisor to be the liaison for the East Hampton-Sag Harbor Citizens Advisory. She was also removed from the management of town harbors and docks, a role she had held all 11 years she has been on the Town Board, and as the emergency preparedness and safety liaison.

Liaison assignments to various town departments and sectors of the community are made at the supervisor’s discretion. Each board member generally has about a dozen assignments and often holds an assignment for many years, shepherding major projects through planning, implementation and completion.

Board members commonly have 
an affinity for certain assignments 
and traditionally are allowed to 
remain in roles they prefer or are suited to. The shuffling by the supervisor this year has been seen by some as 
retaliation for dissent by board members in the past 12 months.

Mr. McGintee denied there was any intent to punish board members.

“It’s time for people to move around a little bit,” he said. “I think change is good sometimes. We don’t just represent one district each; we all represent an entire community and it’s important we all have an understanding of the issues in all parts of the town. These positions are the supervisor’s choice and I think these assignments will better enable us to function well in the community.”

On Tuesday, Ms. Mansir said she is less disappointed about her reassignment from harbors and docks than from emergency preparedness.

“I’ve been at it 11 years and all of the major refurbishments and improvements, the big projects I wanted to do, are done,” she said. “But I am sad to lose emergency preparedness and safety because that is what I was best at. I think it is important to have someone who knows where things stand when it comes to emergency preparedness and has experience in it. There are projects that are unfinished in that area.”

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