After the Glen Cove City Council interviewed Michael Piccirillo for the position of city controller on Aug. 20, to replace Sandra Clarson, who had been fired the week before, the council ultimately chose to table the vote in a 6-1 decision at its meeting on Aug. 27.
Councilwoman Marsha Silverman, who voted against the delay, said that the city needed to fill the position as soon as possible. “Controller is a critical role within the city,” Silverman said, “and needs to be occupied by an objective, qualified professional.”
Piccirillo was one of several candidates who have been interviewed for the job this year. Last December, Tenke, a Democrat, sought to replace Clarson, who was hired by Republican former Mayor Reggie Spinello in 2016. After a leak from the controller’s office revealed that health care premiums had not been deducted from Tenke’s paychecks since he took office on Jan. 1, 2018, he renewed his call for Clarson to resign, and ultimately fired her on Aug. 16.
Tenke said he had lost confidence in Clarson to do her job, because it is the controller’s responsibility to make deductions from employee paychecks, but Clarson said the fault lay with the city’s Human Resources Department. Clarson has filed a petition to the Nassau County Supreme Court to be reinstated. According to the city charter, the controller can be terminated only after a replacement has been found.
The court met for oral arguments on Aug. 28 and again on Tuesday.
At its Aug. 27 meeting, the City Council voted unanimously to approve hiring a special counsel for Tenke, at a rate not to exceed $195 per hour. City Attorney Charles McQuair, who is representing the City Council in the case, said it was not uncommon for someone in Tenke’s position to hire a special counsel, as when a board of directors is not in agreement with its chief executive officer. Councilman Kevin Maccarone said that it was the right move to allow the mayor a special counsel, and that he felt confident that the court would reinstate Clarson in the coming days.
“This issue is going to be resolved quickly,” Maccarone said. “As a lawyer myself, I’ve done my research, and [Tenke] doesn’t have the legal authority to fire the controller.”
Tenke declined to comment, saying that he would not discuss pending litigation.
Maccarone explained that Clarson needed to return as controller to prepare the upcoming budget, which is due by the end of the month. While he thought Piccirillo — the first candidate the City Council had interviewed in over three months — was an impressive candidate, Maccarone said, he concluded that Piccirillo did not have the experience to assemble the spending plan in three weeks. Maccarone added that all the candidates so far had been Democrats, like Tenke.
“He was able to replace the Department of Public Works and information technology directors,” Maccarone said. “That’s fair game. We voted on it. But there needs to be a compromise . . . and [Clarson] has been great.”
Like Maccarone, former City Councilman Ron Watson said that the council should be focusing on the city budget. He urged Tenke to reinstate Clarson for the time being to help get an accurate budget done on time. Watson was a member of the City Council that appointed her. “If you wait until the election, you might find a more favorable council, and you can assign your own controller then,” Watson said. “After the election, you might still be mayor, you might not, but the budget will still be here and needs to get done.”
The City Council also voted 6-1 on Aug. 27 to allow Deputy Mayor Maureen Basdavanos to temporarily certify payroll and certain budget transfers as the city continues to operate without a controller. Maccarone, who cast the only vote against the measure, said he didn’t know whether such action was legal. Tenke said that the council did have the authority to take it. Clarson previously told the Herald Gazette that she didn’t believe Basdavanos was equipped to handle the position.
The Nassau County Supreme Court was scheduled to continue hearing oral arguments on Friday.