Tensions between Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen and Tax Receiver Don Clavin came to a boil last week when Gillen accused Clavin of self-promotion on the taxpayers’ dime.
Gillen, a Democrat, charged that Clavin, a Republican, has used the issue of Nassau County’s property reassessments to boost his image, with news releases and conferences, a Facebook group and a mass-mailer that cost $55,000.
“This mailer shamelessly stokes fear and anger regarding a broken assessment system that the county is in charge of fixing, while simultaneously promoting [Clavin], even though he has nothing to do with the assessment system,” Gillen said. “This mailer is politically deceptive and has nothing to do with any services offered by the town, and duplicative since county officials, who are responsible for the assessment, are already sending out the same information.”
At the Dec. 13 news conference, Gillen also pointed out that Clavin’s office is the only in town government to have increased spending on mailers this year, spending more than all other elected officials combined.
“Everyone else in this town has cut back and done more with less, but the same rules don’t seem to apply for the person who collects your taxes,” Gillen said.
In response, Clavin shot back at Gillen following her news conference, accusing her of spending “hundreds of thousands of taxpayer money to promote events such as her award shows, tree lightings and festivals.” He maintained that the county reassessment was “the most pressing” issue to taxpayers, and that he should be able to send out the “instructional guide.”
Republican Councilman Bruce Blakeman, at a recent town board meeting, defended Clavin.
“Don Clavin is an elected official, and he has the right to do what he wants with his department,” Blakeman said. “It’s not our job, as councilmembers, to micromanage other elected officials’ departments.”
Shortly after Gillen’s release on Dec. 13, Republican Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney criticized elected leaders who abuse their mailing privileges.
“I strongly oppose the abuse of taxpayer funded political mailings,” she said. “Our priority must always be to save taxpayer money and be innovative in our communication with the public. We need to have a broader conversation about best practices to administer mailers that respects the right of independently elected officials to communicate with their constituents while ensuring that all officials respect taxpayer dollars and do not engage in wasteful mailing practices.”
Gillen also singled out Clavin’s communications director, Mike Deery, who is the highest paid employee in town government.
When former Supervisor Anthony Santino, a Republican, left office in 2016, his communications director, Deery, was transferred to Clavin’s office, with the new title of “confidential assistant to the receiver of taxes” and a $205,000 salary that Gillen — as well as members of the public — have criticized.
Since Gillen took office, Clavin’s office has held events and issued news releases announcing new initiatives, or calling news conferences on issues ranging from hurricane relief to the importance of libraries.
On Dec. 4, Clavin held a news conference alongside four aggrieved homeowners claiming that the county’s reassessment was set to increase their taxes astronomically.
At the news conference, Clavin broke out a cardboard “Magic 8-Ball” prop, flipping it around to reveal non-answers to residents’ questions, in an attempt to mock several missteps so far in the reassessment process that have received significant attention, as well as Democratic County Executive Laura Curran.
Clavin also announced that he was starting a Facebook group called “Share Your Nassau Reassessment Stories,” where homeowners could share their experiences, good or bad.
However, a great deal of the posts by residents have been partisan attacks on Nassau Democrats. “Go straight to hell, Curran,” one resident wrote. Another ranted about having a “mosque on the next block.” Clavin has repeatedly asked posters to tone down the rhetoric and stick to the topic of their personal experiences with reassessment.