Hempstead school board members have appointed former Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick to oversee the district's security operations with an annual $90,000 salary, in a vote with little public review and also opposition from a trustee who wanted more information about the job candidate.
Hardwick, 57, was hired as a "supervising security aide" at the board's meeting last week, on the same day a parent and student allegedly assaulted a teacher at Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School.
It was unclear Monday when the consideration of Hardwick originated, but a district source said his appointment was proposed before the attack.
The assault on the middle school math teacher led teacher union representative Elias Mestizo to speak at the board meeting Wednesday about a security breach and threats against educators. Teachers protested Friday outside the district's administration building, calling for stronger safety measures.
Annika McKenzie, a parent, and a 14-year-old student at the middle school who is believed to be her niece, were charged in the attack. McKenzie, who pleaded not guilty, is due in Nassau County District Court Tuesday. The teenager's case is being handled in Family Court.
Hardwick, at a meeting Monday night of the middle school's Parent Teacher Student Association, called the assault "an unfortunate, isolated incident that we are taking very seriously."
He said new clearance procedures will be put in place at the middle school, with three people assigned to the front door -- one to make visual contact and clear each entrant, and another at a desk to sign people in and out. Visitors will be required to have an ID to exchange for a visitor's pass, he said, and will have to have an appointment. It was unclear what the third security-related person would do.
Hardwick told 85 people at the meeting of his experience as an Army recruiter and in leadership posts with the Freeport Fire Department and Nassau County.
"I've got a ton of experience . . . I know how to deal with people," he said. "When it comes to procedures, I'm good at it."
At Wednesday's board meeting, Hardwick's appointment appeared on an addendum to the agenda that had been distributed to board members without any information about the candidate. The 4-0 vote came in the late-night hours Wednesday, after trustees met about four hours in executive session. Board member Maribel Touré abstained.
Before the private session, trustees Touré, Shelley Brazley and Ricky A. Cooke Sr. asked about Hardwick's qualifications.
"I don't feel comfortable voting on something with blind eyes," Touré said then.
Brazley and Touré had Hardwick's appointment temporarily pulled from the agenda as Brazley asked for "more detail." However, the post was added back to the calendar after the executive session.
Hardwick made history in 2009, when he became the first black mayor elected in Freeport, but he was involved in controversy about his combative style and security issues. That year, the village spent close to $10,000 to hire security guards to protect him after he said he had received threats.
Hardwick later took to carrying a gun and posting armed cops at village meetings, among measures critics considered excessive. He lost a re-election bid in 2013.
While there was no discussion of the selection process at the school board's public meeting, school board president Lamont Johnson Monday defended the appointment.
The position had been vacant and security issues should be a priority, he said. "You can't chance it another day when the need is there," Johnson said. He touted Hardwick's experience as mayor of a village with its own police department and as a member of the U.S. Army for 10 years, with six of those as member of the military police. Hardwick also has been a longtime member of the Freeport Fire Department, Johnson said.
"He's the best qualified for the job," said Johnson, adding that the appointment met Civil Service Commission guidelines.