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July 1st, 2003

Just In The Hamptons

by D. Clark MacPherson

The Southampton Town Council enacted its new laws regarding “sharing” in the Hamptons. Instead of emphasizing the laws which already exist that regulate noise, garbage disposal, parking, public drinking and generally offensive behavior – the Town has opted for Draconian measures. In other words, instead of asking Code Officer One (yes that is really his title) Steven Frano and his assistants to simply do their job by giving out summonses, the politicians have chosen to do something different. With the assistance of Carolyn Zenk of the Southampton Town Council, who appears to be the first Democrat elected to office who needs to resume taking her medication, we now have a new set of fines that range up to $8,000 and prison time for an unregistered summer rental. Not only has this perpetuated an illegal process, but it has driven a few more of the final nails in the summer rental coffin. Summer rental business is now virtually non-existent for those out there who invested in real estate. Sales are still good (for now), but if those drop – the local economy is history.

Let’s look at this more carefully. If you have read the previous issues of the SoHo Journal, you will remember that the illustrious Gilmartin family, Town Supervisor Heaney and the Republican Party, along with venerable institutions like the Southampton Press, have kept a tight control on the meager vestiges of democracy and justice. This is important because the Gilmartins have been Town attorneys and Southampton Village attorneys over the last couple of generations. They are the equivalent of Ashcroft for the USA in the Southampton part of the Hamptons. They either indirectly enforce the law or make the law, with their interpretations and legal implementation. In the matter of summer rentals, they are permitting an unconstitutional agenda to continue because it is convenient. And they well know it.

Because the tightly controlled Southampton Town government is run by a veritable crew of Republican Conservatives, or the institutionalized “civil servants” that run the machinery, the same ideology prevails. And, rangers, it is not pro-New Yorker. It is also not pro-civil liberties. And, for those of you who are Hamptons residents who dislike New Yorkers, people of color, gays, lesbians, latinos and your Guatamalen landscaper – be advised that this small clique of usurpers is also anti-Justice, as we have come to know it.

So, for the sake of illustration, let’s just stick with this unpopular issue of the “share” house. There have been a number of rulings in higher courts that essentially state that those who inhabit a “share” house, or group house living situation, are a “family.” While you CAN pass and implement laws that protect the quality of life for a community, you cannot tell people how and with whom they can live. Making it illegal to sell “shares,” telling people how many others can share a bedroom with them, making it a crime to have more than five unrelated people in a summer rental,?Ǭ and requiring that only a “family” can rent a summer house and must file a permit to do so – is clearly unconstitutional. Will we need I.D. cards and be imprinted with a number on our arms next year? This whole process is a ruse for the laziness of the “Code Enforcement” police officers and the failure of the Town government to allocate money to pay for the proper policing of the laws that protect all of us from unruly summer rentals. So Gestapo tactics, search warrants, articles by the Republican Town house organ (Southampton Press) that are carefully planned, and huge fines are the result.

We also have the peculiar indifference exhibited by “Justice” Court in Southampton. Whether they rule by the book, or with the limited legal knowledge they possess, they rule according to “the way things are done around here.” One thing is clear. They do not follow the law themselves. A glaring example of this is their failure to institute an evening session of Small Claims Court. As part of the Unified Court System in the State of New York,?Ǭ a night session is required for the benefit of the community. Whether you are a local Hamptonite or a New Yorker who has gotten a summons for not having the number posted on your summer residence, taking a day off from your job or hiring a local attorney for the 100 mile trip (or be arrested for not appearing), is more than a little inconvenient. The Justice Court has resisted this minor change for a very simple reason. It is the same reason that the Town of Southampton is ignoring the needs of minorities and others – including the group that pays most of the bills (non-resident, taxpaying homeowners) – and that is because they don’t have to pay any attention to them.

For decades, the ever-burgeoning local Hamptons economy has been subsidized, if not totally paid for, by summer residents – through real estate taxes. For this economic boon to local politicians, they have helped create a police force that is poorly trained and antagonistic to the very people who pay their salaries; and they have ignored the special needs of New Yorkers. A Town of Southampton police officer, for example, with only a high school diploma, is the highest paid in the country. In contrast to that, a New York City Police Officer who faces down violent criminals on a daily basis, the Southampton Town Police have, as their most dangerous task, threatening to arrest a New Yorker who fails to pay a local taxi driver for a misquoted fare. But DWI arrests (and more recently seat belt violations) are the favorite game for local police. Not only do they gain a felony charge to their credit, they engage a person who may be unable to speak properly, let alone be a threat to them. Then, unless it turns out to be someone who has a Republican friend in Town government, the Southampton Press reports the arrest in its weekly police blotter. The only other publications that purport to cover the Hamptons are simply “shiny sheets” that pander to celebrities or idiots, or are too fearful of the police or politicians to state the truth. One startling exeption to the virtual blackout on real and balanced news reporting is Suffolk Life. Publisher and Editor David Willmott,sr., speaks his mind and isn’t afraid to take a controversial position as he has recently on the issue of non-resident homeowners having the right to vote in local elections. In Easthampton, the former Police Lieutenant (Gerard Larsen) who owned a private “booting” company not only avoided being reprimanded but has been rewarded for his actions. He is now Chief of Police. This is what happens to you on the East End if you mistreat New Yorkers.

The answer, my friends, may very well be blowing in the wind.

But what must be done is clear. And, although the local governments in other resort areas have not waited for a lawsuit and have pro-actively voted to permit non-resident taxpaying homeowners to vote in local elections, don’t count on that happening soon in the Hamptons. There are too many cute and comfortable deals, such as the school tax and police budget rip offs that continue to milk the economic status quo. A Tax Pac must be formed to elect politicians who are responsible to ALL of the residents. And litigation must be initiated to take the right to vote by those who are paying the bills.

We need a breath of fresh air. And we need to start the process now. You CAN vote in local elections right now, but the process requires that someone with a Hamptons residence must register to vote at that location prior to the election. In the future we will begin describing how to accomplish that and focus on local elections that we can win.

-D. Clark MacPherson

Filed Under: Articles | Politics | the Hamptons

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