New committee would handle special event permit appeals

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The Southampton Town Board is on the verge of forming an advisory committee to hear the appeals of applicants denied special event permits.

The Public Safety Commission, which would fall under the police department, would be made up of five people appointed by the Town Board. The purpose of the commission would be to address the growing number of special events, parades and other organized events throughout the township.

According to the resolution proposing it, such events, which attract a large number of people, “if not regulated by the town, can adversely affect the well-being of the town residents. The town must prohibit those events that unduly impact the public health, safety or welfare.”

Driven by Town Councilwoman Nancy Graboski, the commission was initially to include five “civilians” representative of a broad spectrum of the town, but a lengthy debate with Patrick Aube, president of the Southampton Town Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting resulted in significant revisions to the proposal.

Mr. Aube took exception to the idea of handing over authority over special events permits from elected officials to civilians.

“This is a grave mistake,” Mr. Aube said. “Five civilians would be able to reverse decisions regarding safety made by the chief of police or the fire marshal.” Mr. Aube added that if the Town Board did not want those responsibilities then they should be handed over to professionals within town government, not civilians.

Ms. Graboski, however, argued that the intent behind the formation of the commission was to take the appeals process out of the political arena and put it in the hands of the town’s people.

Another concern of Mr. Aube was language in the proposal that left open the possibility of compensation for the public safety commission members as well as the commission taking on matters other than special event appeals.

“Another committee means more cost to taxpayers,” he said.

Town Supervisor Linda Kabot, who sponsored the legislation, said there is no intention to pay the members this year, but acknowledged that members could be compensated in the future.

In Mr. Aube’s view, the original proposal was too open-ended and presented a dangerous precedent.

“You’re taking legislative duties away from the elected body and putting them in the hands of civilians,” he said. “If you are going to do that, at least keep it internal with those who are familiar with special events.”

Mr. Aube suggested the inclusion of police and fire officials as well as representatives from the town attorney’s office on the committee.

Ms. Kabot, who argued in favor of the commission, said the charge of the individuals appointed would be only to review appeals to applications for special events that had been denied. The supervisor also questioned Mr. Aube’s motives and said he was more concerned about power being taken away from the police than anything else.

“You came in here and argued in favor of the Town Board establishing the position of a police commissioner,” she said.

“Yes, I did, because in that case the Town Board established very clear guidelines and criteria for that individual,” Mr. Aube responded. “There is no criteria for those who will be appointed to this commission.”

Town Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst said Mr. Aube raised “many good points” and agreed that town officials should not be left out of the process. Ms. Throne-Holst, as well as councilmembers Chris Nuzzi and Sally Pope, wanted to keep the duties of the commission confined to the review of appeals. But they were also not comfortable with the idea of leaving the door open on compensation.

With the three council members solidly against voting for establishing the commission as is, Ms. Kabot suggested closing the public hearing with a five-day written comment period while the town attorney’s office addressed the concerns raised during the public hearing.

Limiting the scope of the commission to reviewing appeals for special event and parade permits, removing language that provided for future compensation, and the inclusion of town officials to serve on the commission are the three major changes now being made to the proposed law.

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