So much for a smooth, quiet transition. As the Anthony Santino era came to a close in the Town of Hempstead, the outgoing supervisor initiated and town leaders controversially voted to place high-paid employees in other positions and amended the agreement with the civil service union to include a no-layoff clause.
Adding to this recent hectic period, Supervisor-elect Laura Gillen called for Santino to immediately resign.
An overflowing, at times rowdy crowd and heavy media presence characterized the last town board meeting of the year on Dec. 12. On the agenda were a number of items that had aroused opposition from board members and the public, and engendered several press conferences by Gillen that featured heavy criticism of the veteran politician she had upset on Election Day.
Gillen, at a Dec. 7 press conference, was asked if she would attend the Dec. 12 meeting.
“I have not attended in the past because I wanted Mr. Santino to enjoy his last couple of meetings as supervisor, but in light of recent developments, I feel like I will have to attend this meeting,” she said.
The most contentious item was a memorandum of agreement amending the collective bargaining agreement with the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) Local 880. It stated that “no employee shall be terminated for reasons due to budgetary, economy, consolidation, abolition of functions, abolition of position or curtailment of activities but may be terminated only for misconduct or incompetence.”
Asked about how this resolution, if passed, would impact her ability to manage the budget and serve as the town’s chief financial officer, Gillen had responded, “It’s disastrous for the town board. It seizes all our authority to manage staff and consolidate departments.”
Speaker after speaker had weighed in against the amendment, some warning the only Democrat on the board, Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, to vote against it. In the end she did, joined by Bruce Blakeman and Erin King Sweeney.
Voting “aye,” in addition to Santino, were Ed Ambrosino, Anthony D’Esposito and Dennis Dunne Sr.
Blakeman argued that the resolution represented “a sad day for the Republican Party. It’s not in line with our principles and I would urge my Republican colleagues to reconsider.”
In a statement, King Sweeney said, “I believe this amendment sets bad policy that limits our ability as policy makers to do our jobs. It could impact our bond rating and will tie the Supervisor-elect’s hands going forward.”
Ambrosino expressed concern about the provision and said that he did not wish to tie the hands of the incoming supervisor. However, after consulting with labor attorneys, he believed that there was a way out.
“This clause as drafted does not in any way impede the town’s ability to budget,” he asserted. “If there is fiscal duress, the no-layoff clause is inoperable. The future supervisor and town board will be able to do whatever they need to do to ensure that taxes do not go up and they can make the necessary budget adjustments.”
Blakeman gave the media a dramatic moment when he noisily dropped onto the dais a thick sheaf of papers representing all the personnel changes that Santino had proposed.
The trustee claimed that these resolutions, covering 192 employees who were slated to be transferred, promoted and/or receive salary increases, “were dropped on our laps…without any consultation with this board, without the courtesy of providing us a résumé, an explanation, an evaluation—nothing.”
He went on to say that the vast majority were “very fine public servants and deserved to be retained.”
Instead, he charged, “This is protecting those people who’ve been incompetent and been bullies and haven’t served the public. It’s a blatant power grab and it’s wrong.”
Later, he drew cheers when he attested, “This is Christmas for the well-connected and a lump of coal for the taxpayers.”
The personnel resolutions were divided in several groups to be voted on. Current spokesman Mike Deery will be transferred to the office of Receiver of Taxes Donald Clavin, where he will serve as confidential assistant. Deery will retain his $205,000 salary. Blakeman and King Sweeney were the only no votes against this move.
Two other members of what was called Santino’s “inner circle,” his senior policy advisor/campaign spokesman Matt Coleman, and executive assistant Theresa Gaffney, were denied transfers to community research assistant positions in the Department of Conservation and Waterways and Department of General Services, Buildings and Grounds Division, respectively.
D’Esposito abstained from voting on the promotion of his brother Timothy to a supervisor position in the Department of Conservation and Waterways.
Outgoing Town Clerk Nasrin Ahmad was approved to the position of deputy commissioner in the Department of Occupational Resources at a base salary of $129,500.
The board also approved the creation of a compliance officer to “review town contracts, receive complaints and allegations regarding misconduct on town contracts and procurements, provide greater oversight over compliance with procurement guidelines and legal requirements, as well as an independent voice to recommend policies to promote greater efficiency and operations in town government.”
Blakeman was the sole “nay” vote.
The board also voted unanimously to pass legislation on mass mailings sponsored by King Sweeney. It restricts sending out what King Sweeney labeled as “self-promotional taxpayer-funded mailers…within 45 days of a general election in which a town elected official is a candidate.”
Gillen Weighs In
The day before the meeting, Gillen publicly called for Santino to step down in light of the recent proposed resolutions.
“He’s betrayed his oath to the people of Hempstead,” Gillen said outside Town Hall.
“They did a great disservice to the taxpayers,” Gillen said after the Dec. 12 meeting. “And I’m going to work really hard—hopefully with some colleagues on the town board—to undo all the damage that was done today.”
Regarding the CSEA amendment, Gillen said, “I don’t think this amendment is enforceable. I don’t think it was voted on properly and we’re exploring our options.”
She declined to say whether she’ll file a lawsuit to challenge the amendment.