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Hempstead Town Board rejects extension of outside-staffing contract

Hempstead Town Hall is shown on March 12,

Hempstead Town Hall is shown on March 12, 2018. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

The Hempstead Town Board on Tuesday night rejected an extension through August of a town contract for outside staffing, one day after Supervisor Laura Gillen called on the Nassau County district attorney to launch a criminal investigation into the matter.

But the Gillen administration and Town Attorney Joe Ra disagreed about the status of the two-year contract, which Ana-Maria Hurtado, former commissioner of the town's Department of Occupational Resources, signed with Alcott HR in 2017 to provide extra staff to the department.

Newsday reported Saturday that Hurtado retired four months after signing the contract with Alcott, a human resources outsourcing company, and became an Alcott employee four days later. The contract stipulated that the department, which is federally funded, would select which employees Alcott hired to work in the department. The employees selected included Hurtado and retired agency officials Scott Surkis and Edward Kenny, said the current commissioner, Gregory Becker.

The contract was to expire June 30, but Becker in 2018 signed an extension through June 2021.

Jim LaCarrubba, Gillen's chief of staff, said that contract extension was invalid, citing a section of the town code that states the hiring of consultants by the department is subject to approval of the town board.

"We feel that the contract should expire on June 30," he said.

Ra, however, cited another section of the code that he said grants the commissioner "broad powers" to spend its federal funding.

The board voted 5-0 against the extension through August. Council members Dorothy Goosby and Bruce Blakeman were absent.

Ra said he did not know whether the town board could vote to annul the contract.

"I need to look into the terms of the contract," he said before the meeting.

Becker, Hurtado, Kenny and Surkis did not respond to requests for comment.

Gillen on Monday said "the DA's office has agreed to take a look into the matter and has referred it to the office's public corruption unit." She also called on Becker to resign for "gross mismanagement" and "ignoring multiple directives to bring the department in line with federal funding."

In the first year of the contract, the department projected the first deficit in its history, prompting the town to provide the agency $300,000 in town funds.

The first two years of the contract are projected to cost the department $886,600, according to figures provided by Becker. From the beginning of the contract through May 13, Hurtado, Kenny and Surkis received $407,300 through the contract, according to an email from Alcott to the town obtained by Newsday through a Freedom of Information request.

Also on Tuesday, the board voted unanimously to:

  • schedule a public hearing in July on revising Hempstead's code to give the town board greater oversight over the budget and expenditures of the Department of Occupational Resources.
  • enact new restrictions on advertisements for electronic cigarettes and other "age-restricted products" near schools, parks and other places where children congregate, according to a town news release.

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