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Hempstead supervisor proposes restrictions for department heads

Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen and Town Clerk Sylvia Cabana on Thursday announced legislation that would ban town department heads from serving as political party leaders. Credit: Newsday / John Asbury

Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen is proposing a ban on town department heads leading political committees as a way to help eliminate a "pay-to-play" culture. 

Gillen said she will propose legislation next month to amend the ethics code to ban town commissioners from also serving as heads of local political clubs or committees. She said about half of the town’s department chiefs, including nearly every commissioner and town attorney, are leaders of local Republican clubs.

Gillen, a Democrat, is running for her second term next month against Republican Receiver of Taxes Don Clavin.

Gillen said whistleblowers have come forward and claimed they were required to carry petitions, participate in Republican club activities or make campaign donations in order to advance within departments or get a raise.

“The culture of fear that permeates the town is indicative of the culture the Republican machine has created here in Town Hall,” Gillen said. “The system does little to ensure the government operates fairly and effectively. Especially when there’s a perception one’s next promotion or raise has to do with service to a party, instead of the taxpayers who they are supposed to serve.”

The legislation would require commissioners and department heads to choose between participating as a party officer or continue employment with the town. She said the legislation would not restrict other employees from participating in political events. She described the legislation akin to the Hatch Act, which prohibits the U.S. president’s administration from using government resources to campaign.

The legislation would have to be approved by the Republican-controlled Town Board and Gillen said she will seek a vote after the Nov. 5 election.

Republican Councilman Anthony D’Esposito questioned whether Gillen would expand her legislation to the elected town board and signaled her bill may be a non-starter.

“I suggest Laura Gillen read the Constitution of the United States, which guarantees its citizens the right to participate in the political process,” D’Esposito said. “If she lost her copy, I’d be more than happy to loan her mine.”

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