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Nov 13, 2013 11:26 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

New Southampton Town Board Majority Looks Ahead

Nov 13, 2013 11:50 AM

With the books still not entirely closed on yet another Southampton Town election—the third of the last four not to be settled by the end of Election Night—the presumed members of the coming Town Board are nonetheless looking ahead to what is expected to be a power shift in Southampton Town politics.

The election of Brad Bender to the board appeared increasingly certain, as counting of absentee ballots continued midweek, with a new Democratic Party-led majority in line to take over the Town Board at the start of the new year. Board members, current and future, are putting together agendas and what their priorities should be while they hold the legislative keys.

For members of the coming majority, lofty goals trumpeted in the recent campaign, or ambitions shelved by the political practicality of being in the minority, are getting prepped for action. For the current majority, the urgency of their limited time to push through slumbering priorities swells with each passing day.

With a little more than six weeks left in their hegemony, the current Town Board majority of Republicans Chris Nuzzi and Christine Scalera and Conservative Jim Malone have the conservative coalition’s last chance at forcing through legislative action for at least the next two years.

“From my perspective, over the last year and a half, I’ve tried to work across the aisle and be a consensus builder and moderate, and I look forward to more of that,” said Ms. Scalera, the only member of the current majority who will remain on the board in January. “At the end of the day, you have to work with everyone to get things done.”

She and Mr. Malone both acknowledged that there may be some amendments to the tentative 2014 budget before it is adopted on November 20, but said that in large part the board has worked well with Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst in crafting the spending plan.

“Some minor adjustments are coming to the budget, an expense here and there, but nothing dramatically changing,” Mr. Malone said. “Over the last four years we’ve really gelled to the point where most of us are really on the same page about finding ways to be as efficient as possible. We’re really working well together, and on the 1st of January, 2014, I hope that model will continue.”

Mr. Nuzzi could not be reached for comment.

Come January, the majority of the board will again be another coalition of major and minor parties. Mr. Bender and Ms. Throne-Holst are both registered Independence Party members but have led their campaigns for office under the banner of the Democrats. With Democratic Councilwoman Bridget Fleming midway through her first full term on the board, the party will enjoy its first majority to include a supervisor in town history. With two veterans and a newcomer with a list of campaign pledges to fill, the agenda for the new board will no doubt be a busy one.

“I’m looking forward to learning more about what Anna and Brad’s priorities will be,” Ms. Fleming said this week. “I obviously want to move forward with the things that have been important to me all along. I’d like to fund the Water Quality Protection Fund to a meaningful level. It’s a great vehicle, but $50,000 or $100,000 is not enough to do anything meaningful. The septic rebate was a great thing, or assisting people with getting inspections, or research and development like Anna has been pressing on. We have to be willing to make a commitment.”

Addressing water quality, in particular with regard to the impacts that residential septic systems are having on the East End’s tidal bays, seems certain to get a new shot of vigor with the new majority, as the issue has been a top priority for all three soon-to-be members of the majority. Ms. Throne-Holst and Mr. Bender both made aggressive pursuit of new technology in waste treatment a marquee issue of their campaigns.

Ms. Fleming said she felt the current majority, while voicing support for finding water quality fixes, was not committed to an aggressive approach to implementing real improvements. Mr. Bender said that out of the gate he wants to see officials from the town go to the Suffolk County Department of Health and begin working on getting newer septic technology approved for use on the East End.

Mr. Bender and Ms. Fleming also both said this week that affordable housing issues would be at the top of the agenda for the Town Board in the early months of the next term.

“We can’t go out and shove legislation at people, but I am committed to expanding affordable housing,” Mr. Bender said. “We’ve done well with it in Flanders, and I think we can use some of that same kind of effort to look at other places in the town. Sandy Hollow [Cove] got knocked down because people felt it wasn’t the right spot for it. But once we get a good project under our belts and show that these kind of projects are not going to be a drain on property values and the community, and that the people in these units are contributing to the economy, there will be more embracing of it.”

The supervisor said that she also hopes to press forward with reorganization of departments and divisions of town government and the implementation of new technologies to improve efficiency and cost savings, a task she has been able to advance only in fits and starts while in the minority.

While such goals are at the top of the agenda in a more conceptual sense, the role the new majority will play is to be in the spotlight on its very first day at the dais with some very nuts-and-bolts work on the agenda. Tuesday night’s defeat of a bill that would bar members appointed to the town’s regulatory boards from serving on political party committees, a measure all three members of the coming majority supported, will weigh on one of the board’s first tasks: appointing or reappointing new land-use board members. Up for reappointment are four members of the Planning Board, at least one of whom is a political party committee member; three members of the Zoning Board of Appeals, all of whom are committee members; and three Conservation Board members. Just one of the group, Planning Board member Jacqui Lofaro, was appointed by a Democratic majority.

Ms. Throne-Holst said that while the dual-service debate would have to be a factor in the decision-making process, she expects the decisions will be based on qualifications, not political affiliations.

“I would like to see a very inclusionary and across-the-aisle consensus on candidates who we can agree on being the best person for the job,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “Those appointments are made, or should be made, for qualification reasons, not political reasons. I understand that hasn’t always been the priority in the past. But we’ll do the interviews and make the selections accordingly.”

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