Deconstructing the Myth of “Keys to the City” Here in the Hamptons

Key to the city of London
Key to the city of London. Photo: Robert Lawton

Ultimately, I believe a city should have the right to award a “Key to the City” to a celebrated or accomplished former or current resident of that city. This honor has been going on for years. Sounds pretty benign, but in reality it is not that simple. Do you know everyone who has the keys to Southampton?

Since these are obviously master keys, I would expect they would fit every door in the town. Do we really want to give away this type of unfettered access? What about the important and confidential papers that are kept in Town Hall? I believe that no one within the town of Southampton actually knows exactly how many keys have been given out over the last few hundred years.

And who is responsible for giving out the keys in the first place? If we give out keys to the city and the recipient ends up doing something terrible after the fact, are we able to get the keys back?

These are questions that we, as citizens of Southampton, have a right to know. In researching these questions, I first had to resolve the issue as to whether it is even legal to give out the keys to the city, if it is not really a city? How could the town of Southampton, which is actually a town and not a city, give out the keys to the city? Following that same theory, it would also be impossible for North Sea, Water Mill or any of the other East End hamlets to give out keys to their cities. North Haven and Sagaponack, along with others, are villages, so they should not be able to give out keys to their respective cities either.

In the interest of responsible reporting, I was able to confirm that there are no laws that preclude a town, village or hamlet from awarding a celebrated or distinguished individual “A Key to the City.”

There are so many notable people, both past and present, who have called Southampton home that I would think there are scores of keys out there. Shouldn’t there be some type of accountability in this regard? And wouldn’t it be beneficial for law enforcement to have a record of who actually has the keys to Southampton Town Hall?

How embarrassing would it be if a recipient was arrested for what appeared to be breaking and entering, when in fact, they were just using their key to give a few friends a tour of Town Hall on a sunny Sunday afternoon?

How do we know if the person we are giving the key to is really trustworthy? Mayor Bloomberg gave away the key to New York City to Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger as a way of saying thanks for successfully landing US Airways flight 1549 in the Hudson River when a flock of birds disabled its engines. That sounds reasonable, because if the airline trusted him with the keys to a multi-million dollar plane, so can the city. But I suspect that in Southampton, some keys may have been given out to individuals who were not as honorable.

I was able to confirm that Southampton does not even have any policies and procedures on the books, as to what the keys can and can’t be used for. Also, despite the fact that there are dozens of boards and commissions within the town, there is no specific oversight related to key monitoring. In the absence of such policy, I can only surmise that once someone has been awarded the key, it can’t be taken back.

And who decides who gets a key? We do still live in a democracy—don’t we?

In the future, it should be voted on by the people? We should set up a voting hotline like they do on American Idol, and citizens can call, text or email their vote in favor or against the awarding of a key to a certain individual.

As a citizen of Southampton, I demand that an immediate and comprehensive review be conducted to determine exactly who has a key to the Town of Southampton. Once that is completed, the results should be published and the citizens should be able to determine if the prior recipient is still “key worthy.”

In the meantime, as a safeguard, I recommend that all the locks in Southampton be changed.

Coming Soon: Part 2 of the Sneiv Investigative Series: Why are we using 60 watt light bulbs in the Southampton Public Bathrooms when 20 watt bulbs use less energy?

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