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Hempstead Town Board fires sanitation commissioner, appoints comptroller's brother

Town Supervisor Laura Gillen opposed the move, which she said she learned about just before Tuesday's town board meeting.

Town of Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen, center, at

Town of Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen, center, at the board meeting on May 8, 2018, in Hempstead. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Hempstead Town Board on Tuesday fired its sanitation commissioner and elevated a sanitation superintendent to replace him, despite objections from Supervisor Laura Gillen, who said she received little notice about the planned changes.

The move was one of about two dozen promotions, appointments or raises the board approved at its regular meeting, including the appointment of a long-sought compliance officer to monitor possible waste and corruption in town government.

Board members introduced an emergency resolution at the meeting to appoint sanitation department Superintendent John Conroy as the department's commissioner and grant him a one-year leave of absence from his prior position. The resolution passed 6-1, with Gillen voting against it, saying she didn’t learn of the proposal until 30 minutes before the meeting.

Conroy will replace Commissioner Kenneth Pritchard, who was appointed during former Supervisor Anthony Santino's administration and served in the role for less than three years.

“There was nothing open and transparent about this process,” Gillen said. “I’ve had no opportunity to evaluate if Commissioner Pritchard is doing a good job.”

Pritchard said Tuesday that he was not given any explanation for his ousting and that he did not learn of the change until shortly before the town board meeting.

"We need to make sure that the nuts and bolts of the sanitation department are all working correctly," Councilman Anthony D'Esposito said. "We're all in agreement that John Conroy is the best guy to make sure that happens."

Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney declined to comment on Pritchard's removal or the reason for it.

"We don't comment on personnel," she said.

John Conroy will receive Pritchard’s $185,000 salary, while his $136,893 superintendent job will remain vacant, town officials said. He is the brother of Town Comptroller Kevin Conroy.

The town's Director of Human Resources, William Sammon, said Conroy was well qualified to be commissioner, having worked in the department for more than 20 years.

Gillen said both she and Pritchard were “blindsided” by the move.

“He only found out he was losing his job, shortly before I did. I don’t think that’s a nice way to treat employees,” Gillen said.

Town Attorney Jo Ra said Conroy would maintain some superintendent responsibilities, while others would be split among other superintendents.

The board also voted 7-0 to appoint Thomas Willdigg  as the town compliance officer to review town contracts.

Willdigg, of Massapequa, is a former Nassau County detective with decades of law enforcement experience, according to a copy of his resume provided by the town. He will be paid $150,000 and have a $100,000 budget to review bids and contracts.

Board members have sought since 2017 to create and appoint such a position as part of a broader push for ethics reforms. A panel including representatives of the supervisor, the town board, town attorney, HR and comptroller reviewed candidates but could not decide on three to four finalists.

 Willdigg was selected by the group, King Sweeney said, but Gillen said the panel never made a recommendation before he was picked by the board. Gillen said she is looking forward to working with him, but has requested a background check as a general practice.

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