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Hempstead board opposes choice for town comptroller

Supervisor Laura Gillen named an acting comptroller last

Supervisor Laura Gillen named an acting comptroller last week.  Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

The Hempstead Town Board said Supervisor Laura Gillen did not have the authority to name her finance director as acting comptroller because board approval is needed.

Gillen announced last week that Averil Smith would assume the role of acting comptroller after town comptroller Kevin Conroy retired Aug. 26.

The five Republican majority board members sent a letter to Gillen on Thursday saying her appointment was not legal. Board members said the appointment created legal and ethical conflicts because she is serving the supervisor and acting as comptroller to the town.

 “The appointment violates civil service law and would so cloud her ability to be considered an independent public officer,” board members wrote. “There is no legal mechanism for Ms. Smith to be acting comptroller and there is an inherent conflict of interest in her holding two positions at the same time.”

Gillen defended her appointment and said Smith was already familiar with the town’s finances. She said both deputy comptrollers supported an internal hire.

“It doesn’t make any sense to bring someone from the outside,” Gillen said. “There’s an election in two months and who knows what the board is going to look like. The concern is we wouldn’t get anyone good into a job to last for a couple of months.”

Gillen said the supervisor’s finance director position would be vacated and Smith would maintain her $155,000 salary without a raise.

Council members said the second deputy comptroller should assume acting comptroller until a replacement is made by the board. Board members said Smith should still have access to the town’s financial information and work with the comptroller staff to draft the supervisor’s proposed 2020 budget.

Town board members had nominated Timothy Sullivan, who had served as vice president and director of finance at Nassau University Medical Center. He is also the former Nassau County deputy executive for finance to Edward Mangano, the former county executive convicted of fraud charges. Sullivan also was budget director for the Nassau County Legislature from 1996 to 2000.

Sullivan’s nomination was withdrawn before the town released its agenda for Tuesday’s board meeting because council members said he chose to stay in the private sector.

Gillen criticized Sullivan for his time employed under Mangano and at NUMC, where Sullivan worked from 2014 to 2017. NUMC officials say they are suing Dover Gourmet Corp., the former operator of its coffee and gift shop,  because fees have not been paid to run the eatery since February 2015. Hempstead officials also say Dover Gourmet has not paid the town rent to operate the Malibu Beach Club in the past year.

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