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First meeting for Hempstead Town Board since Dem won top seat

The Hempstead Town Board, in its first public meeting on Tuesday Nov. 14, 2017, voted to accept grant money for a controversial Merrick playground. Republican council member Erin King Sweeney said she did not want to discuss the process leading up to the vote, but praised the board for approving funding. Credit: Newsday / Yeong-Ung Yang

The Hempstead Town Board voted Tuesday to accept a grant for a controversial Merrick playground, but did not move forward with open records law revisions.

In the board’s four-hour meeting — which lacked the shouting among the audience and on the dais that has characterized recent meetings — the results of last week’s election were only briefly mentioned. Incumbent GOP Supervisor Anthony Santino was defeated by Laura Gillen, who will become the first Democratic supervisor in Hempstead in more than a century when she takes office Jan. 2.

Santino pledged to ensure a smooth transition for Gillen and allow her to hire staff before she takes office “in the best interests of residents.”

However, Santino voted against adding to the agenda a proposal from Councilman Bruce Blakeman, a Republican who endorsed Gillen, that would have allocated $100,000 from the postal budget toward Gillen’s transition team. Two other council members joined him in voting against it, with Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, a Democrat who was re-elected last week, abstaining.

The Town Board also voted Tuesday to accept a $75,000 grant from Nassau County to add playground equipment to the 2.9-acre Wynsum Avenue Park in south Merrick. Santino and Goosby abstained.

While Santino had initially requested the funding for the project, last month he urged the project be paused to allow residents to seek a compromise. Some residents had expressed concern about the potential for traffic and noise from the playground.

But community organizer Jay Rogoff, who raised $25,000 for the project, said on Tuesday he believed the vote on accepting the grant money had been hampered due to an ongoing feud between Santino and Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney. The park is in King Sweeney’s district.

“This was all about politics. It’s amazing it took as long as it did to get a children’s playground built,” Rogoff said.

King Sweeney praised the board for approving the funding.

“It feels good. The community worked hard to get this done. It was a classic grass roots effort,” King Sweeney said.

Also on Tuesday, King Sweeney proposed changes to the town’s open records law following a recent controversy over political letters sent to families participating in Camp Anchor, the town’s special-needs program.

Two Hempstead Town employees had used addresses, which a town spokesman said were obtained through an open records request, to send letters to families whose children attend the camp, urging them to vote for Santino.

The board’s 3-3-1 vote, with Goosby again abstaining, meant the bill was not added to the agenda.

Goosby also abstained from a 6-0 vote to schedule public hearings on Dec. 12 for legislation on mass-mailings restrictions and the appointment of an inspector general, and to revisit Santino’s ethics reform package, which the board originally voted on in September. That legislation later was discovered to have an error in its public notice, prompting the town to schedule a revote.

Gillen, as well as King Sweeney and Blakeman, have been calling for ethics reform and an inspector general for months.

King Sweeney, a Republican who supported Gillen in the election, proposed changing the dates of the hearings to January so the supervisor-elect could participate, but that move was voted down, with Goosby abstaining.

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