Around Southampton Town Hall: Town Pledges $2.5 Million For Nathanial Rogers Renovation; Flanders Gets A Flag

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The Southampton Town Board resolved this week to fully fund the work needed to complete renovations on the historic Nathaniel Rogers House in Bridgehampton over the next two to three years.

As part of an effort to make up for the loss of a hoped-for $500,000 state grant for the renovation, the town will allocate $2.5 million from the Community Preservation Fund toward the second phase of the work, primarily the renovation of the 19th century house’s interior.

The Bridgehampton Historical Society also will increase the contribution of private funds it is raising for the project by $350,000, to a total of $1.3 million. The building will be the historical society’s headquarters once the renovation is completed.

The town will contribute $1.25 million from its CPF war chest in both 2014 and 2015, most of which will go to the interior renovations of the 19th century structure, which sits on a corner at the eastern end of Bridgehampton’s downtown.

The house, which was built in 1824 and for many years served as a stately inn, was crumbling when the town purchased it in 2003 to save it from demolition by developers also seeking to purchase the property from then-owner James Hopping.

The roof and exterior of the house have been undergoing a slow renovation over the last several years, using $1.6 million the town has already contributed from the CPF, another $350,000 the historical society raised privately, and a $700,000 state grant awarded in 2009. The historical society also paid the $105,000 cost of restoring the building’s towering front columns.

Officials this week said they are hopeful the first phase of the renovation can be completed with the money that is already in place.
Flanders Gets A Flag
The Town Board designated an official hamlet flag for the Flanders region of the town this week, adopting a design submitted by 17-year-old Shannon Merker.

Sporting the image of the iconic Big Duck from a former duck farm on Flanders Road, sitting amid marshes and ponds, the flag will fly at the David W. Crohan Community Center and the Veteran Park in Flanders.

Ms. Merker, who is a lifelong resident of Flanders and a granddaughter of David Crohan, was on hand with her family on Tuesday as the board passed the official designation and awarded Shannon a proclamation for her persistent efforts to promote the designation of an official flag for her hamlet.

“Six years ago, she approached my office about creating a hamlet flag for Flanders,” Councilman Chris Nuzzi said. “Being that this is government, it’s taken quite a while, but through her perseverance and persistence, and Shannon working through community groups, we’ve come to the point where we do have an official hamlet flag.”
Water Monitoring Amended
The Town Board this week unanimously approved an amendment to the water quality monitoring schedule for the Sebonack Golf Club.

The amended schedule trims the number of annual testing regimens for water samples taken from the ground beneath the exclusive club from four to two. The amendments also make changes to the way a variety of monitoring systems are employed, abandoning some testing sites that have proved less useful and shifting others to different parts of the property where they may better track the impacts of the course’s fertilizer and pesticide usage on groundwater tables.
Cops In Politics Debated
The board held its first public hearing on a proposal by Councilwoman Bridget Fleming to ban Town Police officers from participating in local political committees.

Ms. Fleming said that in light of the turmoil that has enveloped the Southampton Town Police Department in the last 18 months, the measure is needed to help restore and maintain public confidence in the impartial duties of the department. She said that removing any doubts about the motivations for actions of officers would help the department do its job more effectively.

“Politics just doesn’t have a place in law enforcement,” Ms. Fleming said. “The police uniquely exercise broad discretion and cannot be effective without the public trust. Our cops should be supported in doing their jobs without the pressure of politics or even the suspicion that they may be inappropriately influenced.”

Ms. Fleming noted that such “two-hat” provisions are common in many municipalities nationwide. She said the law is not aimed at any one individual in the town but acknowledged that two current police officers would likely be affected by the provision if it is adopted.

The measure comes in the wake of the still unfolding investigations into the town’s former undercover drug crimes unit. Former Town Police Chief William Wilson Jr. suspended the unit’s supervisor, Lieutenant James Kiernan, who is a town Republican Party committee member. Chief Wilson said that Republican-affiliated members of the Town Board refused to cooperate with a number of his management decisions and took steps to undermine his command, including making backroom overtures to get him to resign and making promotions without his recommendation or approval.

The town’s Patrolman’s Benevolent Association also has accused the party and its representatives on the Town Board of trying to deflect blame for the missteps of the drug unit, which has led to the release of two felons from prison and the dropping of charges against several others, onto one of the officers to protect Lt. Kiernan.

Deputy Town Attorney Kathleen Murray told the board that her research on the issue found that a 1990 Court of Appeals decision allowed another municipality to make similar provisions for department heads and high-level appointed officials. The court found that limiting political involvement of such officials was “rationally related to reducing corruption” and “promoting integrity and public confidence in authority.”

Ms. Murray noted that lawyers in the town attorney’s office are currently prohibited from serving on political party committees.

Pete Collins, the head of the town’s civil service union, told the board that he thought limiting any employee’s right to serve is “frightening.” An original version of the bill would have banned civilian employees of the police department from serving on committees as well, but the legislation has been amended to place the restriction only on sworn officers.

“Any erosion of anyone’s rights in any way shape or form … it’s a frightening thing,” Mr. Collins said. “You have a right to serve on one of those committees.”

The Town Board’s two Republican members were silent on the legislation at Tuesday’s hearing. But Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst gave her reluctant support to the bill.

“I am uncomfortable with the timing of this, and I’m uncomfortable that this comes with the perception that it is directed toward a particular individual,” she said. “I do think there is at the very least the risk of a perception of possible impropriety. The distinction of someone who serves in uniform and has the ability to bring down the letter of law on an individual puts them in another category than other civilians.”

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