Southampton Supervisor Tears Down Wall, In More Ways Than One

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The members of the Southampton Town Board have labored in recent weeks to set a tone of detente, of a warming of relations across political aisles, with the start of the new year. Late last month, unprecedented bipartisan support for some changes, and some stability, in the town’s regulatory boards seemed to indicate that board members were serious about breaking down walls that have impeded legislative progress in the past.Last week, they took to breaking down walls of a different kind—real ones.

Workers cut through the wall that has long separated the offices of the four Town Council members from the supervisor’s office suite, replacing it with glass-paneled French doors.

“We’re calling it the ‘Berlin Wall,’” Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said following a Town Board work session last month as she and Councilwoman Christine Scalera, now the senior Republican on the board, passed each other stir sticks and goat’s milk at the little coffee station now set up on a bookshelf where the two offices meet.

Ms. Throne-Holst said she has been interested in tearing down the wall and connecting the offices since she herself moved from a council office to the supervisor’s suite four years ago. The idea was inspired, in part, by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s much-heralded “bullpen” office at City Hall, a sprawling open room where everyone from secretaries to “Hizzoner” himself sat at identical desks in cubicles enclosed only by waist-high dividers, where conversation between top cabinet members required no more than swiveling in one’s chair.

Ms. Throne-Holst said her father had a similar layout in the offices of his chocolate company in Sweden.

“As a kid, I would come up through this giant room where they all sat, and you couldn’t tell who was what,” she recalled. “It’s part of the old theory that people who have a shared geography, so to speak, tend to work more productively together. If we share a coffee machine and a water cooler, it is easy to pick up a conversation if someone is just standing there. I will be standing there making coffee, and one of the council people will be walking by and say, ‘Oh, I was going to come over later …’”

The new Town Hall layout does not go quite so far as Mr. Bloomberg’s bullpen in bringing together the town vanguard—even Mr. Bloomberg did not have his political counterparts an elbow’s length away—but it is already fomenting a more conversational atmosphere.

“Honestly, it’s been great. It does foster a free flow of communication,” Ms. Scalera said. “It seems symbolic, but as a functional matter it makes for a better working atmosphere.”

The arrangement will also make it possible for the respective teams of legislative aides of the two offices to be able to assist one another and share information between offices quicker than even an email can race through the ether.

Ms. Throne-Holst said the work was done by town maintenance staff, essentially for the costs of buying the doors and wood trim, less than $500, she estimated.

“We’re doing some rearranging—Andrea [Jackson] is going to move in there with Janice [Wilson], and they’ll be facing each other, so they’ll be able to talk about stuff,” Ms. Throne-Holst said, referring to assistants in her office. “It just seems like a nice way to create some flow. And I think it looks nice, too.”

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