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Hempstead supervisor amends lawsuit against town board

Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen, seen on Feb. 20,

Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen, seen on Feb. 20, says she will now sue the town board as an entity instead of individually naming council members. Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen amended her lawsuit against the town Monday and removed the names of individual town board members from the petition following backlash from the board’s Republican majority.

Gillen last month sued former Supervisor Anthony Santino, the town board members individually, the civil service commission and the union in state Supreme Court in Mineola, seeking to overturn personnel changes and a no-layoff union clause passed during Santino’s final meeting in December.

On Monday, she amended the lawsuit to only sue Santino, the town board as an entity, and the town’s union. She is now joined as a plaintiff by eight town taxpayers. An attorney for Gillen would also represent the eight taxpayers, said Mike Fricchione, the town’s press secretary who usually acts as Gillen’s spokesman.

The town board’s agenda for its Tuesday meeting includes the hiring of five law firms to represent some of the town board members and the civil service members. The resolutions had been drafted before Gillen amended the suit and it was not clear Monday evening if those items would be pulled from the agenda.

“Since the lawsuit has been further clarified to ensure the Board members they are being named only in their professional capacities, we anticipate that they will share counsel rather than waste taxpayer dollars,” Fricchione said.

Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, the board’s majority leader who voted against the no-layoff clause and criticized Gillen, a Democrat, for naming town board members individually, said she planned to proceed with her own outside counsel.

“I obviously welcome that my name has been removed,” she said, but questioned why the lawsuit was amended the day before lawyer resolutions were going to be discussed at the town board meeting. “I need to make sure that someone has my back because she [Gillen] doesn’t.”

The fees would be paid from the general fund’s undistributed fees and services account, according to the resolutions.

Fricchione said there is about $1.1 million in that account that is typically allocated for outside counsel costs.

Tuesday’s agenda includes a proposal to change the format for public comment at town board meetings. Currently, each speaker gets five minutes to talk after the agenda has finished.

Under the new proposal, public comment would be before the agenda begins, and each speaker would be limited to three minutes.

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