Southampton Town Trustees were hit with a court injunction Wednesday afternoon that’s forcing the 374-year institution to stop conducting official business, as the Board of Trustees was ordered to turn over all of its finances to Southampton Town.
Now, with that town’s longest standing government agency — which is charged with safeguarding its coastal resources — in limbo, many here have been left wondering if the same situation can happen in Southold.
Southold Town Trustee president John Bredemeyer told the Suffolk Times that in this particular case, it could not.
And least not in a negative way.
The difference lies in how the two different board manage their books.
The injunction was the result of a decision made by State Supreme Court Justice Peter Mayer, who ruled that the Southampton Town Trustees could not manage finances outside the authority of the town comptroller’s office and the Town Board, officials said.
While the Southampton Board of Trustees holds its finances in its own designated (and Southampton Town Board approved) accounts, said Richard Cahn, an attorney for the Southampton Trustees, the Board of Trustees in Southold, on the other hand, keeps its finances in the town’s general fund, Mr. Bredemeyer explained.
The court decision stems from a lawsuit filed by Village of West Hampton Dunes residents — some of which have had a longstanding history of litigation with the Southampton Town Trustees — who claim that by managing its own finances, the Board of Trustees is acting outside of its scope as an agency of town government, and is not itself a government body, according to reports in the Southampton Press.
The Southampton Town Trustees plan on appealing the decision.
While the litigation does not directly impact the Southold Town Trustees or the Easthampton Town Trustees, Mr. Kahn said at a joint meeting Wednesday night it could at some point in the future — but in a positive way, should Southampton Town Trustees push for state legislation to protect themselves from such suits.
Mr. Bredemeyer said the Southold trustees were at the meeting Wednesday night in Southampton Town Hall — along with the Easthampton Trustees — to listen to what’s happening, viewing it as an educational conference to discuss issues that other towns are facing so they can better prepare for the future.
“I certainly feel sorry for the Southampton Town Trustees,” Mr. Bredemeyer said. “They have a huge amount on their plate legally, and it’s a shame. It seems they are being set upon by numerous factors, and whether the positions of any of these individuals that are suing them is correct or not — it will probably be borne in the courts.”
Mr. Bredemeyer said the Southampton Town Trustees have historically and “respectfully” maintained an open communication with Southold Town Trustees regarding legal issues that may affect Southold, adding that this could, in the future, be one of them.
“If they are going for a state Legislature change — they will likely want to get us involved,” Mr Bredemeyer said, adding that the only change Southampton would likely seek would be to strengthen the region’s Trustees positions as a whole, “and certainly not weaken them.”