In various villages out here over the years, public spirited citizens groups have from time to time appeared to keep an eye on things.
Back in the 1890s, the Ladies Village Improvement Society was formed in East Hampton to fight for temperance and sobriety. They’d escort drunks home, send shabbily dressed visitors out of town, they’d take care of seeing to it that Main Street was clean and beautiful, and that people weren’t eating ice cream on the street. (They’d admonish them if they did.)
The LVIS remained a serious moral force in that town for more than a century. I recall a big fight they had with a merchant in town 30 years ago when the merchant put up a giant wall poster just inside the front door of his shop showing a full size, full frontal naked obese woman staring out at you. This was meant to go on your refrigerator door at home to remind you of what could happen to you if you opened it too often. The store was four doors down from the movie theatre. The LVIS said children should not have to see this. It went to court.
In the end, the LVIS won that battle. But it was by default. In mid-battle, the merchant took sick and died.
The LVIS doesn’t take on ethical or moral issues as much today, but it is still quite active. We owe our big elm trees and other street furniture to the efforts of the LVIS.
Another watchdog public citizen’s group today is the one in Montauk. Called the Montauk Citizen’s Advisory Committee, they are largely a gadfly to local government, expressing strong opinions about what they think is wrong and making suggestions about what they think is right. Two months ago, they took on a plan by the Supervisor Bill Wilkinson to have a WELCOME TO MONTAUK sign at the entrance to the village with his name on it. The citizen’s group did not want the Supervisor to have his name there. In the end, they lost, but they won, sort of. The sign is up and the Supervisor’s name is there, but it is on a board that is screwed onto the sign, a testament to the unknowables of life and the inevitability that when the Supe goes out of office, his name is removed.
Still another watchdog group is Save Sag Harbor.
Save Sag Harbor issues emails almost every week about even the slightest new thing that might be about to happen in that town. Back in April, they took on a plan to let a new company run a small 53-passenger shuttle ferry between Sag Harbor and Greenport at two hour intervals. It would sort of make a sister-city out of Greenport, accessible by water.
Some members of Save Sag Harbor initially opposed this operation, which was to be known as the Water Jitney. But in the end, the Village fathers allowed it, though because of Save Sag Harbor, just for one summer to see how it would go.
It has gone very well, as it turns out. But Save Sag Harbor decided to poll the citizenry—by email as they usually do—to see if they missed anything. The email consisted of a very thorough twelve question survey. If anything was wrong with this they’d find it out.
In the end, those answering the survey expressed great satisfaction with the Water Jitney. Generally, the questions were answered two to one in favor of the operation. So I guess it will continue. Nevertheless you have to admire Save Sag Harbor’s thoroughness. And it made me think—this could be a model for future surveys. What if, for example, a man wanted to open a broccoli store in town? That would be something new. Save Sag Harbor could send out this questionnaire, just slightly modified from the one about the Water Jitney. It would look like this:
1. Has parking availability in the Village and/or on the wharf been affected by the broccoli store?
2. Has parking at the high school by prospective broccoli customers affected that neighborhood’s quality of life?
3. Have the broccoli transport buses from the school to the broccoli store affected the safety of school neighborhoods or wharf pedestrians?
4. Do you think traffic in town and at the high school has increased significantly because of the broccoli?
5. If you own a restaurant or business, do you feel the emphasis on broccoli has helped or hurt your trade?
6. If you own a restaurant or business, has use of your restrooms been negatively affected by broccoli patrons?
7. Have you noticed any negative sanitation issues with regard to the broccoli, such as debris or broccoli stalks on the wharf or streets, overfull garbage bins, etc.?
8. If you are a boater or fisherman, do you feel the broccoli has disrupted the harbor in any significant way?
9. Have you eaten broccoli and would you like to do it again?
10. If you have eaten the broccoli, have you traveled a significant distance to and from Sag Harbor to come here to eat it, and if so, how did you travel (e. g. by car, bicycle, etc.) and where did you park?
11. Do you feel the broccoli is a “greener” way of eating?
12. Would you say broccoli has, in general, negatively or positively affected our village?
Thank you for your continued commitment to our Village and its special character.
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Try reading this again using the words “hog rendering factory” instead of broccoli.