Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen is to propose legislation that would mandate special elections to fill vacancies on the town board, rather than through appointments.
The five members of the town board’s Republican majority were all initially appointed to their seats. The board’s Democrats, Gillen and senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, were both elected. Goosby typically votes against appointments and calls for special elections.
“It’s disgraceful that whenever there is a vacancy in the Town, voters are robbed of an opportunity to make their voices heard,” Gillen said in a news release. “It’s a protection program for party politicians, where candidates are unfairly given the power of incumbency through selection, when it should be by an election.”
The proposal comes as GOP Councilman Edward Ambrosino’s federal case moves forward. He faces wire fraud and tax-evasion charges that are unrelated to the town board.
If Ambrosino is forced to resign, the board could currently vote to appoint his successor.
“This isn’t about any one individual; it’s about finally having an open and honest democratic process for choosing our elected leaders,” Gillen said.
If the town board passes the measure, it would then go to a public referendum. Gillen may not have enough votes on the town board for the bill to pass. She is facing animosity from some council members after she sued them last month, seeking to undo personnel moves and a no-layoff union clause.
Gillen will propose the legislation on May 8, when the town board would vote to schedule a May 22 public hearing.
State “town law” allows for a majority vote of a town board to appoint a council member, while state “public officers law” states the governor can appoint someone or call for a special election if the board can’t fill the position.
John Farrell, vice chairman of the Nassau County Bar Association’s municipal law committee, said governors rarely get involved in local matters like this because most town boards use the appointment system.
Gillen’s proposal is unusual, he said, but not unheard of. Brookhaven, for example, uses special elections.
The legislation also affects the town clerk and receiver of taxes. The current town clerk, Sylvia Cabana, was elected, while Receiver of Taxes Don Clavin was appointed.
Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, the board’s majority leader, declined to comment.