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Hempstead board to again argue to dismiss suit over personnel moves

Supervisor Laura Gillen is seeking a court ruling to invalidate union changes and employee transfers that were approved before she took office.

Hemptead Supervisor Laura Gillen, fourth from left, with,

Hemptead Supervisor Laura Gillen, fourth from left, with, councilmembers, from left,  Edward A. Ambrosino, Anthony P. D'Esposito, Dorothy L. Goosby, Erin King Sweeney and Dennis Dunne Sr. at a board meeting on Jan. 23. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Hempstead Town Board members have until later this month to file court papers again arguing to dismiss a lawsuit brought against them by Supervisor Laura Gillen over personnel moves.

Gillen is asking a Nassau County Supreme Court judge to invalidate a no-layoff provision in the union contract and undo $2.4 million in 192 personnel changes approved by the board last December under former Supervisor Anthony Santino. Gillen said the personnel transfers were illegal and aimed at undermining her administration, and the union provision prevents her from making layoffs in a fiscal emergency.

Gillen’s Lake Success-based attorney Matthew Didora filed a motion defending the lawsuit in early August. He said the union protections and transfers gave employees new benefits not entitled under the union contract and protected them under the new administration.

The motion cites emails from the town attorney’s office obtained by Gillen that described the union changes as “solely motivated by a desire to restrict Supervisor Gillen’s authority and protect certain patronage employees at the expense of the town and its residents.”

The town board voted 4-3 Dec. 12 during Santino’s final meeting to approve the transfers and the union changes. Council members Erin King Sweeney, Dorothy Goosby and Bruce Blakeman dissented.

Santino and the six other board members were initially sued individually, but then later named in their capacity as elected officials. The case is set to return to court to consider the motions on Sept. 27.

Board members’ town-paid attorneys with Garden City-based Rosenberg Calica Birney filed a motion to dismiss in July based on missed deadlines to challenge the legislation and arguing that Gillen lacked the legal authority to overturn the board’s decision.

“Contrary to the supervisor’s conclusory, unsupported allegations that the resolutions issued by the Town Board stripped her of her purported authority to perform her duties as the town supervisor, she does not have any authority to lay off union employees or to change any of the personnel actions taken by the town board,” the motion to dismiss states.

The town board initially approved paying for Gillen’s attorney, but later rescinded payment.

“The (memorandum of agreement) was a windfall handed over by the town board and the outgoing supervisor to protect certain patronage employees and restrict the newly elected supervisor’s authority,” Gillen’s motion states.

A motion by Santino’s attorney said he should be removed from the suit since he is no longer in office and the board should be entitled to “legislative immunity.”

“As such, the former supervisor should never have been named in this proceeding and his inclusion has no legal basis and is merely a political tactic,” Santino’s attorney Andrew K. Preston wrote.

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