The Republican-controlled Hempstead Town Board on Nov. 27 voted 6-1, with Democratic Supervisor Laura Gillen dissenting, to hire the town’s Republican former comptroller to privately advise board members on budgets and financial issues.
John Mastromarino, who has also served as a Valley Stream Village trustee and treasurer, in October helped members of the board craft their budget, which supplanted the spending plan Gillen had proposed. The board’s budget included a tax cut of roughly $14 per resident, but was criticized by Gillen and others for relying on “less savings” — that is, banking on a certain number of retirements — to fund the tax cut.
Mastromarino will report directly to board members, leaving Comptroller Kevin Conroy, also a Republican, to advise Gillen.
Councilman Bruce Blakeman spoke for the board in defense of the $50,000 hire. The board needs an advisor that reports exclusively to its members, Blakeman said, because the comptroller reports to Gillen, and some of the board’s deliberations are private.
“It was felt, on an ongoing basis, we’d like to have someone monitor for the Town Board exactly what is going on with our budgets and finances — someone to report directly to us,” Blakeman said. “We did not want to put the comptroller in a situation that we would be discussing things with him that were privy and private to our deliberations and our talks.”
Or, as Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, a Democrat who generally supports the Republican Majority, said to Gillen, “You have your own comptroller, as well. We don’t have one. We have to use yours, so it’s time we have ours.”
Gillen called the board-exclusive consultant a “waste of taxpayer money,” and pointed out that the hire violates the Town Board’s own policy of putting all contracts worth more than $10,000 out to public bid.
Gillen added that she had wanted board members involved in the budget process from the beginning.
“I respectfully disagree with Bruce,” she said. “I think there shouldn’t be secret little private meetings … I don’t think there should be secrets. I think it should be a robust dialogue we all have together.”
Blakeman responded that he wouldn’t characterize the board’s meetings as “secret,” but, rather, “privileged.”
“I think that’s something we’re entitled to when discussing policy and personnel decisions that we may want to hash out in a caucus situation, rather than a public forum,” he said.
Before the board voted 6-1 to hire the new consultant, Franklin Square resident Felix Procacci argued with the board members over Mastromarino’s track record as comptroller, as well as a recent bond outlook upgrade the town received.
He was interrupted several times by board members, and eventually shouted for them to stop it. Councilman Ed Ambrosino urged a group of Boy Scouts in the audience to “Ignore Mr. Procacci — he’s an absolute moron.”
“One of you up there might be in jail soon,” Procacci shot back when he returned to his seat, referring to Ambrosino, who is facing federal charges of wire fraud and tax evasion, with a trial approaching in February.
The Hempstead Town Board will next meet on Dec. 11 at 10:30 a.m.