ZBA Chairman Alex Walter Appointed As Cantwell’s Assistant, John Whelan As His Replacement

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East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell has appointed Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Alex Walter as executive assistant to the supervisor at a starting salary of $30,000 beginning May 1.

Mr. Walter’s seat on the ZBA will be taken over at that time by John Whelan, who currently serves on the Suffolk County Planning Commission.

The position of executive assistant, which hasn’t been filled since before the Wilkinson administration, is meant to offer administrative support to the supervisor. According to Mr. Cantwell, the position is a “baby step toward having a town manager-type operation.”

Mr. Walter, a retired partner for Amaden Gay Agencies who has been on the ZBA since 2010, was coming to the end of his term on the ZBA in December but decided to switch tracks when Mr. Cantwell offered him the job.

“I don’t like to leave things early, but this was a timing issue,” he said this week. “I told Larry in the beginning, I’d do whatever he needed.”

He said that back in the fall, Mr. Cantwell approached him and a few others about the position, and he said he’d be interested.

At the end of March, the two touched base again and decided it would be a good move.

“I looked at this as a little bit of a challenge, going back to working 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” Mr. Walter said. “I look forward to it. It’ll be a challenge, but I enjoy Mr. Cantwell and the members on the Town Board. I thought it was a good move.”

Mr. Walter, a Republican, retired in 2005 after 23 years with Amaden Gay Agencies, 19 of those years as a partner. He said he has known Mr. Cantwell for 25 years and served alongside him on the board of the South Fork Country Club for 12 years. “I have a good idea about him, and he, me, as far as how we work,” he said.

Mr. Cantwell said his appointee has a great knowledge of the community and great ability in administrative work, which will help run town government more efficiently.

“Essentially, it’s really an opportunity to address issues and respond to constituents’ concerns and help our office carry our public policy and be effective at getting things done,” Mr. Cantwell said. “Supervisors spend much of their time on many administrative issues, like in the tax receiver’s office coordinating department policy, personnel issues, and many other administrative functions that end up being the responsibility of the supervisor.”

Mr. Cantwell said that in time the town could decide to appoint a town manager, although the new executive assistant will be performing many of those types of duties.

“It’s not that at this time,” the supervisor said of a town manager position, “but it certainly could evolve into that at some point, not necessarily for Alex but in terms of getting that past the point.”

Mr. Walter will be making only $30,000 because the position was not budgeted for by the last administration. In Southampton Town, the executive assistant, Janice Wilson, makes $74,600.

Mr. Cantwell said he couldn’t speculate on whether the salary will be raised next year and said his new assistant is, in effect, donating three-quarters of his time working on “pretty much a full-time basis.”

When asked why he agreed to the salary, Mr. Walter said that wasn’t the focus of taking the job.

“It isn’t about money,” he said. “It’s about helping the supervisor and doing whatever he needs to have done so that he can have a positive administration and get things done.”

Mr. Cantwell said Mr. Whelan was the perfect candidate to replace Mr. Walter as chair on the ZBA because he has many years of experience in planning.

He has worked as a planner in the town’s Planning Department and at local architectural offices, including Stelle Architects.

Other appointments were made on Thursday: David Betts, the former Southampton Town chief investigator who ran for Southampton Town highway superintendent last year, was appointed East Hampton Town Public Safety Director, at a salary of $80,000, to start on May 1.

Donald Kauth was appointed to the part-time position of ordinance enforcement officer at $26.30 per hour, and Aldi Binozi was appointed as ordinance inspector, a full-time job that pays $44,757.44 in annual salary. They begin May 1.

Mr. Cantwell said the town is strengthening its code enforcement.

“This is part of the effort to beef up and make the department more effective,” he said. “Throughout the town, code enforcement is clearly a concern. It was something that was brought to my attention during the campaign. Many people throughout the town want us to do a more effective job enforcing the code in place.”

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