Four Years Later, East Hampton Picks Chief Building Inspector

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After more than four years without a chief building inspector, the Republican majority of the East Hampton Town Board last week, in a vote split along party lines, filled the post—to the consternation of Larry Cantwell, who is uncontested as the next town supervisor and presumed to take office with a Democratic majority in January 2014.

Tom Preiato, a senior building inspector who had been acting as the chief for some time, was appointed last Thursday, October 3, to the department head’s position, on a provisional basis, with a salary of $75,000, effective on Sunday, October 6. His previous salary was $61,500.

Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and his fellow Republican board members, Theresa Quigley and Dominick Stanzione, voted in favor of the appointment, approving it 3-0. The Democratic minority, Peter Van Scoyoc and Sylvia Overby, after the GOP opposed their request to table the vote until budget talks are done, abstained.

Mr. Cantwell said that appointing a chief building inspector and a police chief—as the Town Board did on the same evening last week—were “two very important decisions being made by a board that is leaving office in December, and I would have preferred to have been a part of that discussion.”

But the current supervisor said there was no political agenda to the appointment. “It shouldn’t be perceived that this appointment is a Machiavellian gesture to deny Larry Cantwell his ability to appoint his own chief building inspector,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “Mr. Preiato is owed a shot at this title. As everyone knows, under Civil Service, it’s a provisional designation—so if Mr. Cantwell isn’t satisfied with his performance, he can terminate the relationship.”

The chief building inspector, which falls under the Division of Public Safety, is an important position in town, because whoever has the job holds the authority to determine and interpret the town’s building code. The post had remained vacant since former Chief Building Inspector Don Sharkey died of a heart attack at age 46 in 2009.

The vote was not accompanied by discussion, but Ms. Quigley later said the post hadn’t been filled in the past because the town was cutting back on adding positions. None of the four inspectors already in the department could have been promoted, because none was eligible, according to the Civil Service list, she said, meaning a fifth person would have had to be hired.

Because Mr. Sharkey’s death was so sudden, she said, Civil Service allowed Mr. Preiato to serve as acting chief without the official sanction, but trying to be chief without the full authority made it difficult to run the department, she said.

One of the inspectors retired last month, creating an opening, and the chief’s list expired, she said, allowing for a provisional appointment. “So the stars aligned. We could move Tom up without adding a position.”

Mr. Wilkinson said the time had come, as Pat Gunn, the administrator overseeing the Division of Public Safety, had kept recommending action. Budget Officer Len Bernard said the $75,000 salary is included in the town’s tentative 2014 budget, released last week.

But Ms. Overby and Ms. Van Scoyoc disagreed.

“It’s not actually funded in the budget for next year,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “It’s tentative. Why not wait until it’s in the budget [to make an appointment]?”

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