On her third day as an East Hampton Town councilwoman, Kathee Burke-Gonzalez was just getting settled into her new office space at Town Hall. Last Thursday’s swearing-in ceremony was behind her, and she was raring to get down to business.
Her desk was already filled with important documents on Monday, including the 2014 budget book, and network system specialist Heath Liebman was setting up her new dual-computer screen.
“I’m a Mac girl,” she told the technology guru, explaining that she’d need Windows lessons.
Although it might take her some time to get used to her new office—inside a beautifully refurbished 18th-century historic building—she said she has been well prepared for the job as Town Board member.
“I was in advertising, account management, for 30 years, and we considered ourselves Mission Control,” she said. “I worked with all the departments and acted as liaison to the clients. I was constantly making things happen. I’m used to getting things done.”
She added that her experience on the Springs School Board for nine years also played a role in prepping her for her town position.
“Managing under a tax cap, I’ve gained a wealth of experience in budgeting and dealing with people,” she said.
Dealing with people is what she’ll have to do over the next four years. A wide variety of issues in the town promise to continue to be as contentious as they have been.
Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said she has been assigned as liaison to the East Hampton Airport as well as the Human Services and IT departments.
As the airport liaison, she said she expects to get a financial analysis of the facility underway in the next few weeks.
“We definitely need to do a professional and objective business plan and analysis of the airport, of its revenue, and we need to do a technical noise study to establish that East Hampton is a quiet community and that airport access restrictions can significantly reduce airport noise,” she said. “Now that a capital improvement plan was just adopted, we need to take a look and determine what maintenance and capital projects we need to do moving forward. We need to do a five-year capital improvement plan. I believe that’s getting started.”
She added that, in addition, the board wants to undertake a demographic study to find out who uses the airport and whether the facility meets their needs.
Those with helicopters won’t be the only ones whose needs will be met, if left up to Ms. Burke-Gonzalez. She said she wants to improve mental health services throughout the town as well.
“Back in September 2012, the State Office of Mental Health met with the school districts on the South Fork and they said that parts of rural upstate New York had better services,” she said. “It’s a long haul for kids in need to be sent to Stony Brook. We’re addressing that and I’m hoping to work with the community to build a coalition.”
School officials, the East Hampton Clericus and town officials are planning to meet on January 15 to discuss how to meet the mental health needs of children and adolescents, she said.
With recent discussions about creating a senior housing overlay district, Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said she is on board with taking a better look at seniors’ needs before jumping onto a recently proposed new zoning district.
Having just met with a group of senior citizens, she said that 24 percent of the year-round population of East Hampton are 55 and older and that most of them want to stay in place as they age.
“I think we need to take a look at it and get a better understanding of how the senior population breaks out and how it will look in the next five to 10 years and what services they need,” she said.
Finally, as a longtime Springs resident, Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said that the board is figuring out what legislation needs to be enacted before the summer season starts, including lighting and noise ordinances, and what to do about light trucks parking on residential streets, which has been an issue in Springs in particular.
In her eyes, the new board members are already up to speed on the issues, since they’ve met every week since the election. Not only that, but she suspects the next four years will be a positive experience.
“Larry said it all—I was raised the same way he was—you treat people the way you want to be treated,” she said. “My father [Tom Burke] said you get more bees with honey and you learn more when you listen.”
Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said the swearing-in ceremony was an event to be remembered.
“It delighted me what a big crowd we had,” she said. “It was standing room only.”