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Hempstead councilwoman opposes appealing ruling in supervisor's suit

Hempstead Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney in February of

Hempstead Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney in February of last year.

Hempstead Town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney said Tuesday night that she opposes appealing a split ruling last week in Supervisor Laura Gillen's lawsuit against the town board.

While describing the ruling as "judicial activism," King Sweeney, the Republican board majority leader, said any appeal should be authorized by a town board vote and called for the passage of long-pending ethics legislation instead.

Approving the ethics reforms "will save precious taxpayer money and restore integrity to the town," she said.

The split ruling in Nassau County Supreme Court last week ordered that a no-layoff clause for union workers be annulled, but that 197 personnel transfers were legal. Both measures were passed by the town board in December 2017, one month before Gillen, a Democrat, took office. 

Councilmembers King Sweeney, Republican Bruce Blakeman and Democrat Dorothy Goosby had voted against the no-layoff clause, which passed 4-3.

In the lawsuit, Gillen argued that the no-layoff clause and personnel transfers were meant to protect patronage employees and to hamstring her authority as supervisor.

Gillen's Article 78 petition, brought in April 2018, widened the divide between the first-term supervisor and the rest of the town council, where Republicans hold a 5-2 majority. 

No Republican board members joined King Sweeney at Tuesday night's board meeting in expressing opposition to an appeal.

Regarding a possible appeal, Gillen said: "I certainly hope we won't be wasting any more taxpayer resources on this litigation."

"I applaud Councilwoman King Sweeney for not only standing up to her fellow council members, but agreeing with the judge's decision that an ethics violation took place," Gillen said in a statement Wednesday. "The Town should close this shameful chapter of its history and move forward with real ethics reform."

Blakeman said he would not oppose appealing the ruling but called for the town to seek to resolve the matter instead with the Civil Service Employees Association, the union whose collective bargaining agreement with the town was amended to include the no-layoff clause.

"Perhaps in dealing with our union and working through the collective bargaining agreement, we can come to an agreement that would obviate an appeal," he said.

Goosby said: "I am not in favor of maybe appealing. I don't know." She expressed concern about the precedent the lawsuit could set for other towns.

Republican Councilman Ed Ambrosino said the board had the legal right to appeal, but he did not say whether he would support such a move.

Republican Councilman Anthony D'Esposito declined to comment, and Republican Councilman Dennis Dunne did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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