A new state law will lengthen the terms of the East Hampton Town trustees from two years to four and simplify an election that typically had 18 candidates seeking nine seats every other year.
The nine-member board, established in 1686, is a separate governing body from the town board and oversees beach access and other water issues.
The current terms are two years, meaning that every other year nine Republican candidates can face off against nine Democratic candidates in the at-large election. The number of candidates is further complicated by cross-endorsements and minor-party endorsements.
Beginning in 2023, the five candidates receiving the largest number of votes will win four-year terms. The next top four vote getters will win two-year terms and be eligible to run for four-year terms in 2025.
Trustees Susan McGraw Keber, Bill Taylor and Jim Grimes worked to craft and advocate for the legislation. The staggered terms will make it easier for candidates to introduce themselves to voters and allow newly elected trustees to learn the job before having to worry about campaigning again, McGraw Keber said.
"If you have candidates that are running every four years, you have stability with people who know what the projects are and what we’re doing," said McGraw Keber, a Democrat who is running for a third term in November. "There is a sense that the board is working together in a more productive way."
The law does not affect the upcoming 2021 election.
Continuity on the board allows trustee to deepen their expertise, McGraw Keber said, adding it is helpful for issues like negotiating a five-year fisheries study to investigate the impact of electromagnetic fields from the proposed South Fork Wind Farm on marine life.
Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) and state Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) sponsored the legislation, which was signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Aug. 2. The East Hampton Town Board passed a home rule message in support of the legislation during a May 25 meeting.
Southampton and Southold towns have similar trustee bodies. Southold’s five-member board carries terms of four years. Terms in Southampton are two years, but unlike East Hampton the board includes only five members.