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Hempstead reassigns town building commissioner

Hempstead officials moved its building commissioner to run

Hempstead officials moved its building commissioner to run another department, saying a change in leadership was needed. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Hempstead Town reassigned its building commissioner Tuesday as part of an overhaul of a department that is facing an investigation and scrutiny over its operations after superstorm Sandy.

Building Commissioner John Rottkamp was given a nearly $4,000 raise and appointed commissioner of planning and economic development, a position that had been vacant.

Rottkamp, who has served as building commissioner for the past 11 years, was making about $151,000 a year. Acting building commissioner Fred Jawitz will oversee the department in his stead.

Supervisor Don Clavin said Rottkamp was needed in a different department but didn’t comment on Rottkamp’s performance.

"I think it was a great time for a change in leadership," Clavin said.

Rottkamp could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The Nassau County district attorney’s office served search warrants at Town Hall last year, collecting files and computers from the town’s building department and the department of information and technology. District attorney officials declined to comment Tuesday.

A separate case is pending against former deputy Building Commissioner John Novello, who was indicted on charges that he stole $60,000 from the Cedarhurst Republican Club. He has pleaded not guilty. He was reassigned and took a leave of absence.

Both Clavin and his predecessor Laura Gillen have called for overhauling the building department and zoning codes, following complaints from residents trying to repair their homes. Hundreds of Sandy homeowners were given orders to elevate or repair their homes years after the storm.

Town officials said Rottkamp’s reassignment was unrelated to the departure of a code enforcement officer, Adam Brinsley, who circulated a resignation letter accusing Rottkamp of a hostile workplace.

"The environment created by the gross negligence and corruption within your department creates a hostile and toxic workplace which I can no longer bear," Brinsley wrote last week.

Town board members rejected a call last year by Gillen and State Sen. John Brooks (D-Seaford) for an outside or state audit of the building department.

Clavin said the town has already made changes to improve the building department while keeping it open for the past nine months, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The town now accepts building applications online and provides documents for residents and developers, Clavin said. He said the town is continuing to scan documents to bring the department online.

"I’m not going to focus on political comments," Clavin said. "We’re making positive changes and residents and developers have seen it and are happy it’s taking place."

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