At a news conference outside Glen Cove City Hall last Friday, Mayor Tim Tenke called for the resignation of city Controller Sandra Clarson. Clarson was hired by former Mayor Reggie Spinello, a Republican, in December 2016, and fired by Tenke, a Democrat, last December, but has remained in her position until a replacement is found.
Tenke said that Clarson disclosed documents to Newsday without his knowledge, which revealed that there had been no health care deductions from his bimonthly paychecks since he took office on Jan 1, 2018. According to the city’s health care deductions listing, Tenke should have had $119.01 taken out of each paycheck. Saying he was unaware that the deductions were not made, Tenke volunteered to write a check for the $4,795 he owed.
Disclosing the documents to the press was an attempt by Clarson to “undermine” him, Tenke said, adding that Clarson could have told him about the mistake privately instead of giving the information to the press, and that department heads should confer with him before publicly releasing personnel information. The only reason for Clarson to fail to do so, he said, would be to sabotage him politically.
Clarson did not respond to several requests for comment.
Tenke also said that Clarson’s failure to tell him about the deductions was evidence that she was not doing her job properly. When he investigated further, Tenke said, he found that the city’s Human Resources Department had submitted bimonthly reports to Clarson’s office detailing all of the deductions that needed to be taken out of paychecks, and that she failed to make them.
“I called for her immediate resignation based on these actions,” Tenke said, “because I’ve lost all confidence in her ability to do her job.”
The mayor does all of his banking online, he said, and was not checking to see if the deductions were being made, having had faith in the controller’s office to do it.
“He had faith in our Glen Cove departments to do their job effectively and the right way,” said Grant Newburger, the city’s public relations officer. “And his faith, in this case, has dissipated.”
Tenke also called for State Comptroller Tom DeNapoli to conduct an audit of Clarson’s office. According to Tania Lopez, DeNapoli’s deputy press secretary, the office received Tenke’s formal request for an audit on Tuesday.
Spinello said that Clarson has done an excellent job as controller, likely saving the city upward of $1 million. The former mayor added that he found Tenke’s call for Clarson’s resignation to be baseless. “I think it’s certainly unwarranted,” Spinello said. “She has a track record of putting the city’s interests first, and I think it was an incorrect request on his part. She didn’t deserve that.”
Although Democratic Councilwoman Marsha Silverman did not comment on whether she believed Clarson should resign, she did say, “I think that any employee that discloses confidential personnel matters to the press without trying to resolve them first is a concern to me.”
Councilman Joe Capobianco, a Republican, said he believed Tenke’s call for Clarson’s resignation was “totally inappropriate.” The mayor, Capobianco said, could have simply said there was a clerical error and he would pay what he owed. “I don’t think it’s anything other than the fact that he doesn’t like her,” he said.
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Capobianco asked Tenke why he chose to “chastise” Clarson publicly. Tenke said he wanted to address the press as soon as he could, because a story based on the documents Clarson provided appeared in Newsday on Friday. He added that her failure to inform him before giving personnel information to the press also motivated him to call the press conference.
Capobianco and fellow Republican Councilman Kevin Maccarone suggested that if the controller’s office is to be audited by the state, then the Human Resources office should be as well. Tenke said that both offices need to be investigated, but he had decided to start with the controller.
Resident Nancy Hawkins asked the council why Clarson had remained active in city government after being fired. Maccarone said she was still the controller because public officers cannot be dismissed until a replacement is found, except under extreme circumstances — for example, when a crime has been committed. He added that the city had been unable to find a new controller this year, recalling one instance in which a candidate for the job walked out before the interview even began.
Hawkins said that council members, who, with the exception of Silverman, are all Republicans, have stonewalled Tenke on several personnel decisions, preventing him from bringing in people whom he believed could help the city. Maccarone responded that the council does not participate in party politics, but Tenke has only brought “his people” — appearing to imply that the candidates were Democrats — for consideration.
Barbara Peebles, who served as deputy mayor under Spinello, said that Glen Cove was “a joke” for going after Clarson, who has among the best track records of any controller on Long Island and should not be penalized for exposing the mistake in health care deductions. The city has had trouble finding candidates for her position “because they know she’s a good controller,” Peebles said, “and they would never step foot in a situation like this to be treated this way.”
Peebles also asked Tenke if he was sure he was the only employee who did not have health care deductions taken out of his paycheck. Tenke said that the Human Resources Department had discovered that other city employees had the same issue.