The Town of Hempstead Council's Republican majority voted on Sept. 3 to nullify Supervisor Laura Gillen’s appointment of Elmont resident Averil Smith as the acting comptroller, saying the appointment violated civil service law.
Gillen, a Democrat, announced Smith’s appointment in an Aug. 26 news release, after the departure of former comptroller Kevin Conroy, who said he stepped down for health reasons. His departure coincided with reports that the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York was investigating Conroy for a controversial contract extension that he reportedly approved for the Dover Group to operate the town’s Malibu Shore Club.
“Averil Smith is an exceptionally talented and uniquely qualified financial expert who is needed to help oversee the town’s finances,” Gillen said in a statement at the time, noting her success as comptroller in the Town of North Hempstead.
But according to town code, Republicans said, the board is responsible for naming a replacement. Until then, they said, the deputy comptroller is to fill in as comptroller.
To that end, Councilman Anthony D’Esposito, a Republican from Island Park, proposed an “emergency resolution” at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting to change Dominick Longobardi’s position from second deputy comptroller to deputy comptroller. Longobardi, a Republican who has worked for the town since 1990, also is mayor of Floral Park. Gillen had previously told the Herald that he had declined the position over worries about a conflict of interest in his role as an elected official.
The resolution passed 6-1, with Gillen the sole vote against the measure. D’Esposito then proposed the legislation to declare Smith’s appointment “null and void.”
Gillen expressed her opposition to the resolutions at the meeting, saying it was inappropriate for town Republicans on the board to file an emergency resolution on the matter.
“I have not seen this, the members of the public have not seen this, [and] this is not the way government should run,” she said, adding that appointing an acting comptroller falls under her role as the day-to-day manager of the town.
In response, Councilman Bruce Blakeman, a Republican from Valley Stream, said it qualifies as an emergency because Gillen appointed her finance director to the position. “The comptroller should not be representing the supervisor, [and] the comptroller should not be representing the town board,” he said. “The comptroller is there to make sure that all the financially important issues are reviewed by that office.”
He also spoke directly to Gillen, saying that Smith is “in the position of being an advocate for you and your budget.”
Gillen argued, however, that the town only produces one budget “for the best interest of the taxpayers.”
Still, the board voted 5-1 to nullify Smith’s appointment, with Gillen opposing the measure, and Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby abstaining.