Members of the Hempstead Town Board on Tuesday stalled a proposal by Supervisor Laura Gillen calling for special elections to appoint elected officials when vacancies occur.
The legislation — for which Gillen wanted to call a May 22 public hearing — would be a significant change in the way the town conducts business, with five of the seven members of the Republican-majority board having been appointed to their positions.
All five appointed Republicans voted to table Gillen’s resolution. Gillen and Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, a Democrat who traditionally votes with the Republican majority, voted against tabling it.
Gillen, as well as residents, have alleged that the appointments made it easier for the five Republican board members to win as incumbents during regular elections. She decried the board’s action in a statement issued later on Tuesday.
“There is simply no reason this needs to be tabled,” Gillen said. “I cannot imagine why the council members would oppose this measure — unless they want to prevent residents from deciding who joins this board.
“Right now, if there is a vacancy on this board, the person who takes that seat will appointed by these board members — not a single one of whom actually lives in the district to be represented,” Gillen continued. “Think about that. Each council member represents a particular district, and they, not residents, will be deciding who represents a different district. That is not democracy.”
The most recent appointee was Dennis Dunne, who represents parts of Bellmore and Merrick. Dunne was picked last year to succeed fellow Levittown Republican Gary Hudes, who stepped down for personal reasons.
Sue Moller — a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully against Dunne last year — protested his appointment at the time, calling it “a backroom deal” that allowed Dunne to run against her as an incumbent.
Dunne said in a statement on May 3 that he was concerned about the cost of special elections.
“Laura Gillen has not spoken to the board about her proposed legislation, so I do not know the details,” Dunne said. “I do know that special elections are extremely costly, and certainly [I] need to see what the cost will be to taxpayers before I make any decision.”
After Dunne’s appointment, Mike Deery, the town’s director of communications at the time, told the Herald that state law allows the board to appoint a council member to fill a vacant town council seat for the unexpired term, but does not provide for a special election. “It would be irresponsible to leave the residents of the 6th Councilmatic District without representation for six months,” he said.
Dorothy Goosby, Gillen’s only fellow Democrat on the board, has on several occasions made it clear that she does not approve of appointments.
In 2015, when Council members Erin King Sweeney and Bruce Blakeman were appointed, Goosby asked the board to table their appointments and call a special election.
“Consider what we are doing here,” Goosby said. “Those voting tonight do not represent the people of the 3rd or 5th Councilmatic Districts. This is a very undemocratic process.”
If Gillen’s legislation passes the board, the town board would be required to hold a special election between 60 and 90 days after a vacancy. If there were a vacancy within 60 to 90 days of a general election, the office would remain vacant until the election.
The proposed law applies to every elected office, including the town clerk and receiver of taxes.
The five council members voting to table the Gillen’s resolution did not explain their votes, and could not be reached for comment before the Herald went to press.