The Hempstead Town Board on Tuesday ousted the acting comptroller appointed last week by Supervisor Laura Gillen, leaving America's largest town without a top financial officer during budget preparations for next year.
The board's five Republicans voted unanimously to declare "null and void" Gillen's appointment of her finance director, Averil Smith, as acting comptroller, on the grounds that Smith's dual roles in the supervisor's and comptroller's office present a conflict of interest. Gillen, a Democrat, voted against the measure, while Democratic Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby abstained.
Goosby joined the Republicans in voting to change the title of Deputy Comptroller Dominick Longobardi to "second deputy comptroller," a designation which, per the town code, enables him to fulfill the responsibilities of comptroller until the board fills the vacancy. Gillen voted against that measure as well, voicing pointed objections at a meeting filled with partisan infighting.
The board's vote follows the Aug. 26 departure of Comptroller Kevin Conroy, who said he was retiring due to health issues. Newsday previously reported on Conroy's role in extending Dover Gourmet Corp.'s contract to run the town-owned Malibu Beach Park in April. At the time of the extension, Dover had not paid Hempstead rent on the property in seven months, accumulating a balance of $378,000. Gillen denounced the extension as a "sweetheart deal" and the U.S. Attorney's office for the Eastern District of New York has subpoenaed the town for records on Dover.
Gillen, a first-term supervisor seeking reelection in the fall, said in an interview after the meeting that the Republicans' vote to remove Smith may have to do with the revelations about the Malibu contract.
"They don't want [Smith] digging around the comptroller's office," Gillen said. "Who knows what else that office has been covering up."
But the Republicans offered a different explanation in a memo to Gillen last week.
"Serious legal conflicts and ethical issues arise in [Smith] serving as Secretary to the Supervisor, acting as your Finance Director, and Acting Comptroller for the Town," the memo reads. "This appointment violates Civil Service Law and would also cloud her ability to be considered an independent Public Officer."
Gillen said Longobardi had told her previously that he felt his position in Floral Park may present a conflict if he were appointed comptroller.
Longobardi, a Republican who also serves as the mayor of Floral Park, declined to comment after the meeting. Town payroll records show he has worked for Hempstead since 1990.
Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, the board's Republican majority leader, said after the meeting she would recommend the board not appoint a comptroller until after town elections in November. King Sweeney and Republican Councilman Bruce Blakeman are also running for reelection. Republican Councilman Thomas Muscarella, who was appointed to his seat in April, is running for election.
"To go on a huge talent search for a job as important as the comptroller, it takes time, and the election is coming up," King Sweeney said. "I think it should be devoid of politics. The timing is tough."