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Hempstead Town signals it will repeal law for free air at service stations

The Hempstead Town Board took a symbolic, unenforceable vote Tuesday to repeal its controversial free air law — the subject of a lawsuit — and scheduled a public hearing next month for the official vote to do it.

The law, originally passed in 2016 and amended in 2017, requires service stations in the town’s unincorporated areas to provide free air to customers during business hours. Motorists had previously been charged 75 cents to $1 for the air.

Service station owners and air pump suppliers sued the town in Nassau County State Supreme Court. Town Attorney Joe Ra said the lawsuit is ongoing but the town wants to settle it.

Ra said the law can only be repealed following a public hearing, which was scheduled for Aug. 7 during Tuesday’s meeting through a unanimous vote.

“That’s the only way to get it off the books,” Ra said.

The unanimous vote Tuesday to repeal the law “is not enforceable,” he said, noting that the town board’s goal was to show the public its intent for next month. He also said the free air law had never been enforced in the town.

Since 1978, service stations could have coin-operated air machines as long as there was a sticker stating that free air was also available. Following complaints that the service stations never actually had free air available and citing safety concerns, the 2016 law prohibited the service stations from charging for air. If the repeal is passed next month, the law will go back to the version where service stations can have coin-operated machines as long as there is free air available on demand.

In other business, the board voted 5-2 Tuesday to hire outside ethics counsel, Roslyn-based Leventhal, Cursio, Mullaney & Sliney LLP, at $275 per hour. Supervisor Laura Gillen and Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby voted against the hire. Gillen said there was a conflict with the firm but did not specify what it was.  Mike Fricchione, the town’s spokesman who usually speaks for Gillen, declined to comment about the law firm’s potential conflict further after the board meeting.

In addition, the board voted unanimously to hire Frederick P. Clark & Associates Inc. to do a financial and feasibility study about the possibility of turning the Woodmere Club, a golf club, into a town park district or a town park. The Five Towns community has been divided over the potential residential development of the club. The club has also sued the town.

The board also voted unanimously Tuesday to indefinitely adjourn resolutions that would have rescinded the hirings of outside counsel to represent town board members in a lawsuit brought against them by Gillen. The law firms had been hired to represent town board members individually in Gillen’s lawsuit — she is seeking to undo personnel changes and a no-layoff union clause — but may not be needed now that she has amended the litigation to sue the board as an entity.

Timeline of lawsuit filed by Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen against the town board and others:

  • Dec. 12, 2017: Hempstead Town Board passes 192 personnel moves and a no-layoff union clause
  • April 11: Supervisor Laura Gillen files a lawsuit in Nassau County Supreme Court challenging the board’s December votes. It names former Supervisor Anthony Santino, the town board, each town board member, the town’s Civil Service Commission and its members, and the union that represents town workers
  • April 24: Hempstead Town Board votes to hire Bee, Ready, Fishbein, Hatter & Donovan LLP to represent Santino
  • May 7: Gillen amends her lawsuit so that the town council members and Civil Service Commission members are not named individually. Eight taxpayers are added to the suit as plaintiffs
  • May 8: The town board votes to hire outside counsel to represent the board members individually and a different firm for Gillen
  • June 19: The town board votes to hire Rosenberg, Calica & Birney LLP to represent the board as a whole
  • July 3: The town board indefinitely adjourns the resolutions that would have rescinded the hirings of outside counsel to represent each town board member

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