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Hempstead school board votes to remove trustee LaMont Johnson

Hempstead school board member David Gates speaks as

Hempstead school board member David Gates speaks as trustees Melissa Figueroa, Gwendolyn Jackson and Maribel Touré prepare to go into executive session at a special school board meeting at Hempstead High School on Friday, June 30, 2017. Also shown is Superintendent Shimon Waronker. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Hempstead school board voted Friday to remove trustee LaMont Johnson from his post after finding that he had disclosed the names and addresses of district employees in violation of district policy.

The panel immediately appointed Hempstead resident Mary Crosson to the seat, and Crosson was sworn in. The actions to remove Johnson and appoint Crosson came on identical 3-1 votes, with board President Maribel Touré and members Gwendolyn Jackson and Melissa Figueroa in the majority. Trustee David Gates voted in opposition.

Johnson — who was elected in 2016 to a second consecutive three-year term — was not present at the board’s meeting, held at Hempstead High School. His lawyer has said he was hospitalized this week for treatment of a heart condition.

The continuation of the special hearing regarding Johnson’s removal, conducted behind closed doors by a board-designated officer on several dates over the past two weeks, started at about 9:45 a.m. and ended at about 11 a.m. Douglas Thomas, Johnson’s attorney, did not arrive before the board members emerged from the private session.

Touré, in an interview after the meeting, said an initial report determined that a school district employee had provided the list of personnel information to Johnson. An investigation into other employees’ actions will continue, she said.

Johnson was accused of giving those names and addresses to the campaign of school board candidate Randy Stith. Stith defeated Figueroa in the May 16 election, and his three-year term in the seat begins Saturday.

Johnson, in a telephone interview afterward, said the board took advantage of his health condition.

“The majority board members disregarded my medical emergency and my right to be represented for their thirst for power,” he said, pledging he someday will return to the board. “They didn’t care.”

Touré, however, said Johnson’s legal team had opportunities to present evidence to counter the allegations. “The reason why it lasted more than two weeks is because he was never available,” Touré said of Thomas. “I really feel very sad for how everything had to happen. We should not be doing this kind of stuff. It’s very sad that LaMont Johnson had to be removed.”

Several Johnson supporters in the audience of about 30 were angered by the board’s action, saying Johnson’s removal was driven by the majority’s desire to retain the balance of power.

The swift appointment of Crosson, who was sitting in the audience, appeared to surprise Gates, who asked Touré: “At what point did I have an opportunity to interview Mary Crosson?” Touré responded that Gates has been “refusing to participate in the activities of the board.” Gates replied that she was “lying,” and said he had been barred from some discussions because he was a witness for Johnson.

Crosson, an activist who has been a member of the advocacy group New York Communities for Change, could not be reached for comment.

Superintendent Shimon Waronker, who took the reins of the system on June 2, said divisions on the board have resulted in inconsistent leadership of the district. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” he said in a telephone interview Friday afternoon. “I hope to work with all members of the board.”

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