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Mayor asks city attorney to recuse himself

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Glen Cove Mayor Timothy Tenke has asked that City Attorney Charles McQuair recuse himself from a lawsuit filed against the city by Controller Sandra Clarson.

On Aug. 16, Tenke, a Democrat, fired Clarson, who was originally appointed in 2016 by then Republican Mayor Reggie Spinello. Tenke said he had lost confidence in her after a leak from her office revealed that the proper health care deductions had not been taken from the mayor’s paychecks since he took office on Jan. 1, 2018. A Freedom of Information Law request from the Herald Gazette found that Tenke was not alone in receiving erroneous paychecks. Clarson contended that the errors originated with the Human Resources Department.

Clarson filed a petition to Nassau County Supreme to reinstate her, and Judge Sharon Gianelli temporarily barred the city from firing Clarson in September. The decision came after three days of oral arguments in court in which Clarson urged Gianelli to reinstate her as acting controller to work on the city’s finances while the case continues. In those arguments, McQuair argued in favor of reinstating Clarson and presented statements from all the City Council members except for Councilwoman Marsha Silverman, the lone Democrat on the board. 

“I didn’t find out that he was gathering statements from the board until I read about it on Newsday,” Silverman said. “I don’t think he’s representing me. [Clarson] is suing the city, and he’s defending her.”

McQuair did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the Herald Gazette.

At a City Council meeting on Sept. 24, Councilman Kevin Maccarone said that what was important was that McQuair represent the decision of the majority of the board rather than each person on the board. He compared it to when a lawyer defends a decision of the city’s planning board when a lawsuit occurs. “If the board votes down on an application 4-2 . . . would the attorney represent the entire board or do they represent the majority who made the decision?” he asked. “The attorney represents the decision. It’s common sense.”

But members of the public expressed their disdain over the current situation and McQuair’s lack of communication with Silverman during the meeting. Glen Cove resident Gail Waller said that she did not like the fact that McQuair was not representing the views of the whole board, including that of the mayor’s, who had to hire special council for himself in the case. “I’m very concerned as to why taxpayers are paying Mr. McQuair to be the city attorney who represents [the mayor] and the council, and now we’re paying for the special counsel,” Waller said. “ So he’s representing an opposing view and opinion? It’s conflicting.”

McQuair previously stated that it was not uncommon for mayors to seek special council whenever they have disagreeing viewpoints with their board.

Tenke had until Oct. 10 to finish submitting his arguments to the Nassau County Supreme Court, after which Gianelli will begin making her decision.