Civil behavior dissolved into discord Thursday at a weekly work session of the Southampton Town Board when what began as a routine reading of the draft agenda became a tense war of words between Councilwoman Nancy Graboski and Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst.
A resolution introduced by the tightly aligned Republican faction of the board – Councilmen James Malone and Chris Nuzzi, along with Graboski – dealing with the establishment of a wind energy conversion systems advisory committee set the stage for explosive drama as Graboski and Throne-Holst sparred. Malone and Nuzzi were absent for the discussion, arriving at the work session late.
Graboski said she co-sponsored the resolution with an eye toward moving forward “responsibly to ensure we protect our natural resources.” With other towns such as East Hampton, Southold, and Riverhead “grappling with” wind energy issues – and the interest of the Suffolk County Planning Commission in setting wind code – it’s critical that the issue be addressed with a regional approach, she said. “The East End is unique.”
And, she added, it’s “important” that that matters dealing with policy, are put forward by town board resolution.
Currently, said Graboski, “ad hoc committees appointed by the supervisor” are engaged in setting policy, something she finds troublesome.
The councilwoman referred to an email speaking of a plan to identify potential sites for a small wind-energy pilot program that would be set up on town-owned property. “I think that’s a town board decision,” she said.
Graboski accused Throne-Holst of “working behind the scenes” and implementing policy without town board authorization.
Not true, said the supervisor, pointing out that a discussion on the pilot wind energy program on town property had been held in a public forum at a work session earlier this year. The group, fired back Throne-Holst, “has not been working behind the scenes. To suggest something is going on behind closed doors is really offensive.”
Also of concern, said Graboski, was the fact that Throne-Holst appointed the committee without town board discussion or resolution; those individuals, she charged, are “acting behind the scenes to set policy. In the interest of open and transparent government, I have to ask questions.”
The supervisor reminded Graboski that any member of the town board has the right to organize an advisory committee, including the green committee.
“I’m aware of that. I wrote the resolution,” to establish the committee, said the councilwoman.
Throne-Holst said she spearheaded the formation of the group.
“That was (former Town Supervisor) Linda Kabot’s initiative,” snapped Graboski. “Don’t take credit where credit isn’t due.”
Councilwoman Bridget Fleming expressed serious concerns, due to the fact that she was not asked to sign on to the resolution and had no knowledge of it, despite being a liaison to the green committee. And, she said, the new committee put forth by resolution is comprised of exactly the same group as the current members of the Sustainable Southampton Green Advisory Committee. “My concern is the motivation,” said Fleming. “This resolution is sponsored by three Republicans.” And, since membership in both groups is identical, “This appears to be a political move,” she said. “It smacks of politics.” Something she finds troublesome, especially when it involves something “so important – wind energy.”
Throne-Holst agreed, and asked why current member Rich Stott had been left off the list put forth by the GOP trio.
The reason was Stott was omitted, said Graboski, was something she felt would “be more appropriate discussed in executive session.”
And, she added, “I didn’t come here to argue. I came here to establish a committee the way it should be done. How many ad hoc committees have you unilaterally established?” she asked Throne-Holst, adding she wanted a list of those groups.
“I have every right,” countered the supervisor. “As do you,” she added. And, said Throne-Holst, she invited Graboski to attend meetings, something she wouldn’t have done if the objective was acting unilaterally.
The supervisor added town residents have been seeking an opportunity to participate and join advisory groups, and that it’s a “good, productive way” to represent constituents.
Fleming reiterated her concerns; Graboski responded. “If you’re saying you don’t want a committee, don’t vote for it.”
A similar response was uttered last week by Malone during a discussion involving expedited arraignments. When Fleming asked questions about the language of the law, Malone fired back, “Don’t vote for it.”
And that, said Fleming Thursday, might be the point: “In the end, we can vote no and since they’re the majority, they can do what they want. And I think that’s the message they’re sending – and that’s extremely troubling.”
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