Intelligent Activism

Dear David:

I write this in my private capacity, and not as a representative of the town or the town planning board, which I chair.

Toward the end of the most recent meeting of the Wainscott citizens advisory committee, during a discussion about the folly of incorporation, a member of the Wainscott committee asked what would become of the citizens advisory committee if Wainscott were incorporated. It’s an interesting question that I hope will never need to be answered. But it did set me thinking about what I see as the bankruptcy of one of the main arguments raised by the proponents of incorporation: That Wainscott is a stepchild of the town. That Wainscott is treated as an afterthought. A doormat. A place to pass through without a thought. A forgotten hamlet. The town’s dumping ground.

These phrases come to my mind easily because during the eight years that I was co-chair of the Wainscott citizens advisory committee, ending around 2000 when I was appointed to the town planning board, I wrote many letters to the town board expressing this point of view. And I meant every word of those letters. Then. However, in the 20 or so years since I left the committee, it has been led by a succession of co-chairpeople who have been better and more capable than I, and the Wainscott citizens advisory committee has enjoyed a membership that, year after year, has been increasingly active and more deeply involved in the hamlet’s affairs.

The result has been, over the past 20 years, successive town boards focusing to a far greater degree on the hamlet, and being far more responsive to both the short-term and the long-term needs of Wainscott. Whether the issue is the preservation of the rural character of Wainscott through land purchases, or a carefully considered Hamlet Study, or a quick and significant response to a crisis in the hamlet’s drinking water, I think that it is accurate to say that the treatment which Wainscott receives from the town board is considerably more meaningful than was the case 20 years ago. This is due, in no small measure, to the intelligent activism of the Wainscott citizens advisory committee and the incredible individuals who have served, and continue to serve, as co-chairpeople since I left.

Over and over again, I have heard proponents of incorporation claim that a village will provide “more responsive” government. Yet, when pressed, they can point to absolutely no aspect of local governance that they believe a village would perform better or more efficiently than the town. Indeed, the only issue that really animates supporters of incorporation is their desire to prevent the electrical cable from traveling beneath Beach Lane. Everything else is a sideshow. And trying to stop an electrical cable is not a good reason for Wainscott to incorporate.

I am always prideful when I hear the Wainscott citizens advisory committee described as the “gold standard” among the citizens advisory committees. It would be an awful waste to trade in the years of credibility that the Wainscott citizens advisory committee has developed working collaboratively with the town for a single-issue village.

Very truly yours,

Wainscott, NY

from a letter to the editor of the East Hampton Star