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Hempstead trustee questions village IDA members’ legality

Jeffery Daniels contends that the lack of a village board trustee among the appointees violates state law.

Karla Guerra, second from left, Reginald Lucas

Karla Guerra, second from left, Reginald Lucas and Franz Nicolas attend a Hempstead Town IDA special meeting on March 13. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

A new Hempstead Village trustee said he believes any votes taken since June by village members of the Hempstead Town Industrial Development Agency may not have been in compliance with state law.

Trustee Jeffery Daniels introduced emergency legislation last week for the village board of trustees to seek outside counsel “for the sole purpose” of representing the village against the town’s IDA regarding deals since June 6, 2017. The board passed the proposal with a 4-1 vote, with Mayor Don Ryan voting against it.

Daniels contends that the four village residents’ appointments — Stacey Hargraves, Karla Guerra, Franz Nicolas and Reginald Lucas — who sit on the IDA board and vote on projects in the village violate state law. Hargraves is the village assessor, and community members Guerra, Nicolas and Lucas were appointed in June when Ryan took over as mayor.

State law allows Hempstead Village and Freeport to appoint their own members to the town’s IDA and states the appointees “shall include at least one member of such village’s governing body and at least three at large members drawn from a cross section of the village community.”

Daniels said during the board meeting last week that because the four IDA appointees do not include a member of the village board of trustees, every IDA agreement involving the village since the June appointments “should be reversed.” He has been outspoken in opposing the recent approvals for IDA tax benefits for FDR Services Corp. and Garden City Mazda, both of which are in the village. Ryan wrote letters to the agency in support of both projects.

The state comptroller’s office referred a media inquiry to the town IDA.

IDA attorney John Ryan declined to comment to Newsday on Monday.

Thomas Wassel, chairman of the Nassau County Bar Association’s municipal law committee, said the state law’s use of “shall” typically means that a member of the village board would be required to sit on the IDA.

“Generally speaking, ‘shall’ is mandatory,” he said. “As opposed to ‘may,’ which is somewhat equivocal and somewhat optional.”

Wassel said a court might not overturn deals that have already gone through, but could affect projects in the future.

“There’s an argument to be made that since there was no elected representative on the [IDA] board, the village and the village’s interest were not properly represented,” he said, but noted that in light of the mayor’s letters, “the argument that the village’s voice was not accurately heard might be a hard one to sell.”

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