Locals raised concerns about the credibility of Nelson Pope Voorhis, a consulting agency frequently hired by Southold Town, at a town meeting last Tuesday.
The consultant came under fire in late August after it presented a contract to Southampton Town that included a clause stating, “As we go through the process of meeting with the community and the various stakeholders, we will be able to further clarify any of the opposition’s hot-button issues. We will seek to neutralize this by having them appear as traditional NIMBYs who consistently present misinformation to promote their own limited agendas and present a positive message through community leaders.”
The contract, which Southampton Town signed, was for NPV to redo an environmental review after a local lawsuit for an overlay district in Hampton Bays, according to 27East, which reported the issue and posted a picture of the contract clause. The Suffolk Times filed a Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of the contract, which was not easily available online or in person from Southampton Town.
Southold resident Nancy Butkus raised concerns about Southold Town’s continued use of the consulting firm, just ahead of a Town Board vote on a resolution to transfer funds to pay NPV for its work on a plan for housing solutions. NPV was hired by the town to work with a community advisory board on drafting a plan to spend funds generated by a half-percent transfer tax on real estate purchases, if it is approved by local referendum in November.
“I don’t understand why Southold is moving ahead with this firm that’s proved to be compromised. They are working for developers and really have a vested interest in the developers, and not listening to all of us, who have been complaining about various issues,” Ms. Butkus said. “One of our local civic leaders went through and did this incredible traffic study. She’s got a master’s in engineering, she found all these mistakes, and yet, Nelson Pope stood behind it even though she’s an expert.”
NPV affirmed the accuracy of a study evaluating the potential traffic impact of the proposed Enclaves Hotel and Restaurant earlier this summer, after a local engineer and civic leader raised multiple concerns about accuracy. The town Planning Board accepted the report.
Councilman Greg Doroski said NPV was the only firm to respond to a bid for work on the housing plan and emphasized that the Southold Town Board reviews contracts closely before signing.
“We draft our own contracts with these consultants. So what they are agreeing to are our terms. I don’t know what happened in this case,” he said, referring to NPV’s contract with Southampton. “I can agree with you that I do think we need to take a hard look at what we’re having them do for us.”
Councilwoman Jill Doherty said she’s never personally encountered issues with the firm and is satisfied with the town’s contract for the housing plan. Supervisor Scott Russell said, in reference to the Enclaves traffic study, that both parties have expertise and it was “a disagreement between experts.”
“It’s not the consultant that accepts their own study. It’s not the consultant that accepts input. It’s the Planning Board that ultimately chooses to accept the findings,” Mr. Russell said.
Ms. Butkus asked that the Town Board review their contracts with NPV, questioning the agency’s credibility. Another local, Robert Dunn, reiterated her concerns.
“The fact of the matter is, if you pass this, and I want to see that half-percent [transfer tax], I really do … but I think you’re kind of diminishing its value when you use a consultant who has a lack of credibility,” Mr. Dunn said. “Clearly, that’s a lack of credibility. They were stupid in putting that in writing. It’s bad enough that they thought it … They were wrong. They were stupid and we shouldn’t hire stupid people.”
“With due respect to the elected officials who signed this contract, it’s not Nelson Pope Voorhis that did this for their own reasons. They were hired as a consultant for a municipality to do this,” Mr. Doroski responded.
Councilwoman Sarah Nappa added that Southampton accepted the NPV contract as written, and reiterated the care the Southold Town Board takes in signing agreements.
27East has reported the controversial clause was on the first page, under the first heading of the contract. NPV estimated the cost of community outreach would be $25,000 out of the more than $200,000 charged to redo work struck down in court last year.
Southampton town officials apologized and struck the clause from the contract, denying any plan to discredit opposition. Town supervisor Jay Schneiderman said he only scanned the scope of the proposal and did not see the clause. Multiple town offices similarly said they missed the clause.
The contract was also signed by a partner at NPV, who also denied intentionally including the clause. A town official said it was added by a public relations subcontractor that specializes in getting approvals for developers.