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Hempstead commissioner to retire amid criticism over contract and DA probe

Gregory Becker is commissioner of the Hempstead Department

Gregory Becker is commissioner of the Hempstead Department of Occupational Resources. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Hempstead Commissioner Gregory Becker will retire Saturday, a state official said, leaving his beleaguered agency temporarily without a leader as it contends with a budget deficit and an investigation by the Nassau County District Attorney.

Becker, 65, who heads the Department of Occupational Resources, submitted his retirement application on June 14, said Tania Lopez, a spokeswoman for the Office of the New York State Comptroller. Six days prior, Newsday reported that a contract signed in 2017 by then commissioner Ana-Maria Hurtado created post-retirement jobs for her and two colleagues in the town agency, which then projected its first-ever deficit.

Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen then called on Becker to resign, and for the district attorney to launch a criminal investigation into the contract.

Becker said Wednesday he was not retiring in response to Gillen's request, but rather to take advantage of a town health insurance retirement incentive. A former Republican state assemblyman, Becker has worked for Hempstead Town since 1999, and for the department since 2004. He was paid $146,700 in 2018, payroll records show.

The department does not currently have a deputy commissioner. Asked who will lead the agency following his departure, Becker said he has "great confidence" in its staff.

"My retirement or [the] absence of a Commissioner does not relieve the duties and responsibilities of all staff and personnel," he said.

The department, known as DOOR, runs the HempsteadWorks Career Center, which provides counseling and training to local job seekers.

Gillen said Wednesday she was "pleased" with Becker's decision.

"I hope that we can restore that department under the stewardship of a proper leader," she said.

Gillen, a Democrat, said she is interviewing job candidates to fill Becker's role, and will meet with members of the Republican-controlled Town Board this week to discuss possible replacements.

In the meantime, she said, department staffers Kurt Rockensies, a clerk laborer, and Elizabeth Ajasin, a program manager, will manage the agency's operations.

The department has projected a $115,000 deficit in the current program year, which ends June 30, records show. Its budget this year is $5.2 million.

Hurtado signed the two-year contract in March 2017 with Alcott HR, a human resources outsourcing company with offices in Farmingdale, to provide extra staff to the department. She retired that July and became an Alcott employee four days later, Newsday reported. The contract stipulated that the federally funded department would select which employees Alcott hired to work in the agency.

Hurtado did not respond to a request for comment.

A DA spokeswoman said Wednesday the office is "reviewing the allegations."

On Tuesday, the town board is to hold a public hearing on a measure introduced by Gillen to grant the board greater oversight over the department.

Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, who leads the board's Republican majority, said Wednesday she did not know how her Republican colleagues would vote on the item, but that "we need to move forward with some sort of reform with regard to DOOR," and Gillen's proposal "likely gets us there."

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