Southampton Town considers restrictions to three of its boards

Bradley B. Bender, of the Independence Party, is

Bradley B. Bender, of the Independence Party, is a Southampton Town council member. (Aug. 18, 2013) Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

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A resolution that would have kept political party officials from serving on Southampton's Zoning Board of Appeals, planning board and conservation board was tabled Tuesday, after four of the five town board members introduced an alternate proposal to allow no more than three members of any one political party from being named to the boards.

Councilwoman Bridget Fleming, a Democrat who sponsored the original resolution, said she would be happy to table it until the next town board meeting on Feb. 25 when a public hearing is scheduled for the second proposal.

"I'm glad there's so much discussion about ethics," she said. "It's a good thing to talk about."

Councilman Bradley Bender, an Independence Party member and one of the sponsors of the new proposal, said it was important to deal with the perception that politics can influence the decisions of the three boards. Members of the three are appointed by the town board and act independently on such matters as granting variances to the town zoning code.

"We want to get all the public input we can. This is a big decision," he said.

Fleming's proposal would have kept people appointed to those town boards from simultaneously serving as officials in any local, state or national political party. It would not have kept them from carrying petitions for political candidates or making donations to them.

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When her change was first proposed, supporters said it would remove the impression that political influence can determine what projects get approvals. But at public hearings, opponents of the change said the restriction would violate freedom of association and speech.

The new proposal -- introduced by Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, an Independence Party member, and three other town board members -- says no more than three members of those boards can be registered in any one party or have no affiliation. It would not keep three enrolled Republicans and three enrolled Conservatives, or three enrolled Democrats and three enrolled Independence Party members from serving on one board, each of which has seven members.

Neither proposal would have affected current board members, who serve five- or seven-year terms; only newly appointed members. Fleming's original proposal is similar to a restriction in effect in Southold and East Hampton.

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