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Hempstead Republicans challenge comptroller appointment

Supervisor says criticism is another example of obstructionist politics

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Town of Hempstead Republican lawmakers are challenging Supervisor Laura Gillen’s selection of Elmont resident Averil Smith as acting town comptroller, claiming the appointment violates civil service law.

In an Aug. 29 letter sent to Gillen, Town Board members Bruce Blakeman, Erin King Sweeney, Anthony D’Esposito, Dennis Dunne and Thomas Muscarella, who make up the Republican majority on the board, wrote that the second deputy comptroller is to act as comptroller until the board names a replacement, ac-cording to town code.

They added that there were “serious legal conflicts and ethical issues” that arose from Smith’s appointment, because she also serves as Gillen’s finance director. They instead filed a resolution to appoint Timothy Sullivan, former County Executive Ed Mangano’s finance deputy, who served as Nassau University Medical Center’s vice president of finance while Freeport-based Dover Gourmet Corp., a subsidiary of the Dover Group, stopped paying the hospital.

Gillen, a Democrat, said the Republicans’ accusation is another example of the GOP majority attempting to obstruct her agenda. “What we have here is a Town Board majority desperately trying to cover things up,” she said. “They want to stop [Smith] from uncovering corruption.”

The previous town comptroller, Kevin Conroy, abruptly resigned earlier this month. His departure coincided with reports that the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York was investigating him for a controversial contract extension that Conroy reportedly approved for the Dover Group to operate the town’s Malibu Shore Club.

Gillen said she had spoken to the town’s second deputy comptroller, Dominick Longobardi, about serving as Conroy’s temporary replacement, but he declined the post over worries of a conflict of interest in his role as the Floral Park mayor.

The other deputy comptroller, Richard Ramos, reportedly does not have a certified public accountant’s license, she said, and Acting Deputy Comptroller Michael Capobianco reportedly also declined the position.

Gillen said that bringing in an outside comptroller would disrupt the town budget process that is now under way.

“What they’re doing is a great disservice to the taxpayers,” Gillen said of the Republican board members. “The person with the greatest knowledge of the budget is Ms. Averil Smith.”

Smith previously served as comptroller for the Town of North Hempstead, and oversaw a credit-rating upgrade to AAA by Standard & Poor’s. She also reportedly helped to assemble Hempstead’s previous two budgets.

Her appointment as acting comptroller role announced on Aug. 26 in a news release.

Smith received a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Brooklyn College in 1991, then worked as an auditor for Mineral Technologies, ABC Carpet & Home and Earnst & Young before earning her master’s degree in finance in 2013. “I started getting antsy, and I decided I wanted to do something different,” she explained.

In 2016, she took the comptroller’s position at the Town of North Hempstead. In her first six months there, Smith questioned line items that did not make sense and, in doing so, outed a former town employee who embezzled more than $98,000 from the Solid Waste Management Authority. The employee, Helen McCann, later pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree corrupting the government.

Smith attributes the town’s credit rating increase to her and her colleagues’ ability to hold down expenses and determine how every dollar is being spent, which she said Gillen agrees with.

As acting comptroller, Smith said, she would work to keep expenses low so that people would want to continue to live in the Town of Hempstead. To that end, she declined Gillen’s offer to use a town car when she was offered the position, saying she did not see a need for one.

“I think as a taxpayer, what I get great joy in is finding ways to save taxes,” Smith told the Herald, “and trying to make sure we get the best bang for our buck for our taxpayers.”

She added that she has become well-versed in the town’s more than 200-page budget, and believes she could find ways to get it “to a place where people could be proud to call the Town of Hempstead home.”