The Hempstead Town Board on Tuesday appointed Thomas Muscarella to fill a vacancy on the board and passed a long-sought overhaul of the town ethics code.
The board's four Republicans voted unanimously to appoint Muscarella, a Republican, despite the objections of Democratic Supervisor Laura Gillen, who said the appointment was undemocratic and will give him an unfair advantage when he runs for election to the seat in November.
Muscarella, 59, of Garden City, takes the seat of former Second District Councilman Edward Ambrosino, who pleaded guilty to felony tax evasion and resigned from his town post April 3.
Democratic Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby left the meeting before the vote.
Gillen called the appointment a "move to tip the scales in November," and noted all of the Republicans on the board were first appointed to their seats.
Councilman Anthony D’Esposito countered by citing instances in which Democratic governments have made appointments to fill vacancies both statewide and locally. He also said that Tom Tweedy, a Republican running on the Democratic line against Muscarella in November, himself appointed people to fill vacancies on the Floral Park Village board of trustees as mayor.
Muscarella was sworn in after the vote.
“The person who vacated this seat had to do so for personal reasons," he said of Ambrosino.
“I am an appointed official. When it comes to Muscarellas, we like to be elected officials and I will work hard to represent the area.”
Muscarella's siblings include an Oyster Bay Town councilman, a Nassau County legislator and a Nassau County District Court judge.
The board also unanimously passed an overhaul of the town ethics code with new or revised rules combating nepotism, conflicts of interest and the use of town offices for private gain.
“This is a vast improvement of the existing code of ethics,” the town’s ethics counsel Steve Leventhal said. “Previously, it was a bare-bones statute that was really inadequate.”
The new code includes a clause added by D'Esposito that prohibits town officials from seeking to limit the free-speech rights of town employees and contractors.
The proposal was prompted by a memo purportedly showing that Gillen had contacted a town contractor regarding an employee of the company who had publicly criticized Gillen, according to a Monday town board news release.
According to the release, the memo was sent from the employer to the employee and stated that Gillen contacted the firm about the employee's critical comments, which "have jeopardized our business relationship with our client, the Town of Hempstead."
The memo purportedly asked the employee to refrain from such remarks, and warned that doing otherwise could lead to the employee's "termination."
Bonnie Radafshar of Westbury confirmed in an interview that she is the employee referenced and that she received the memo from her employer.
D'Esposito said the employer is Hawkins Delafield & Wood, the town's bond counsel.
Radafshar said: "Freedom of speech is always important to maintain, and I have respect for my employer."
Robert Smith, a partner at the firm, declined to comment.
Gillen spokesman Mike Fricchione declined to comment, saying he was "afraid of retaliation from [D’Esposito] because he has publicly threatened to fire me ... for speaking to the press on the supervisor's behalf."