The Hempstead Town Board, in outgoing Republican Supervisor Anthony Santino’s final meeting, passed a number of controversial resolutions over the objections of incoming Democratic Supervisor Laura Gillen and dozens of residents.
Residents sported signs with messages supporting Gillen, and condemning Santino, calling for an end to “backroom dealing” and corruption. The atmosphere in the room was tense from the meeting’s start, as a mixture of applause and boos greeted Santino as he arrived, and Gillen received applause from roughly half the room.
“I think people are fed up,” said Alexander Michaels, an Oceanside resident. “It’s a town government that was allowed to do what they want to do without much interference from the voting public for a very long time.”
“It’s the last meeting [where] Republicans have one hundred percent control,” said Michaels, calling the meeting a turning point for the Town. “One hundred years, one party, and we are where we are, so [this is] huge.”
Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney’s proposal for an independent inspector general, to vet all town contracts for possible corruption, was shot down by a 5-2 vote, while the board voted 6-1 in favor of a similar proposal by Santino.
King Sweeney voted for Santino’s “compliance officer” proposal despite it being flawed, in her view, because it was “a good first step.”
Councilman Dennis Dunne opined that the post should be called “compliance officer” rather than inspector general, because of the implication of corruption that comes with the latter term.
“There’s been no allegation of corruption in the Town of Hempstead,” he added, which prompted laughter and booing from attendees.
Councilman Bruce Blakeman called Santino’s proposal a “charade” and voted against it.
“This is nothing more than a watered down version of what an inspector general should be,” Blakeman said. “This isn’t even light beer — it’s near-beer."
The board also passed a contract amendment that would prohibit future termination of civil service employees, except for in the cases of misconduct. That is, no layoffs would be allowed, even in the case of a budgetary emergency.
More than 190 employees were also transferred or given raises, including the town’s director of communications, Mike Deery, who will continue to receive a $200,000-plus salary, now as “confidential assistant to the receiver of taxes.”
Santino’s policy consultant, Matt Coleman, and Theresa Gaffney, an assistant to Santino who additionally serves as mayor in East Rockaway, were not given the departmental transfers and raises proposed.
Many, including Gillen, saw the moves as an attempt to hamstring Gillen before she takes office. “I’m not opposed to giving worthy employees a raise, but not to transfer political appointees to civil service jobs,” said Steven Greenfield, a resident of Baldwin. ”That’s flipping civil service law on its head and I’m opposed to that.”
Greenfield went on to call the move a “ridiculous proposal to change the employee contract so the only way you could terminate a contract is incompetence. There are times when layoffs are necessary, you can’t tie the hands of any future administration.”
The resolution passed, with Blakeman and King Sweeney voting against it, as well as Democratic Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, who generally votes along with Santino, also joining the nays, without explanation.
Councilman Ed Ambrosino supported the measure, saying that he had consulted with an outside law firm and been satisfied that the town would still be able to conduct layoffs in a fiscal emergency.
His vote prompted booing and chants of, “You’re an embarrassment,” and, “Stop stealing our money.”
“I’m disappointed in many of the things that were done today,” said Gillen after the meeting. “It’s ridiculous that he’s appointing people to serve in my administration, but it’s not surprising from Supervisor Santino.”
“In America we have something called a democracy, and one of our great American democratic traditions is the peaceful transition of power. It’s been adhered to by administrations on the federal level, on the local level, and the state level,” she continued. “He’s trying to set up a shadow government in my administration because he thinks he going to come back in two years, but the voters soundly rejected him for the very bullying, despotic tendencies that he’s shown throughout his tenure as Supervisor.”
Gillen will be sworn in on Jan. 2, and has vowed to undo many of the Dec. 12 measures.
“I think there’s general outrage here,” said Greenfield. “[The Town] wants to move in another direction, and many of the actions that are on this agenda today are trying to perpetuate the power of this existing administration that’s been voted out of office.”