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New town hire faces criticism over lack of experience for the role

Union leaders have questioned the North Hempstead Town

Union leaders have questioned the North Hempstead Town Board's recent hiring of a new director for the Solid Waste Management Authority. Credit: Howard Schnapp

North Hempstead Town has hired a former municipal attorney to lead its Solid Waste Management Authority despite what critics say is his inexperience in waste management.

Michael Kelly, 38, of Setauket, will begin working next Monday as the agency’s executive director at an annual salary of $150,000, about $2,000 less than what Robert Lange, the former director, was paid when he resigned in November

The hiring of Kelly, a government lawyer of 15 years, was met with pushback from the union, which voiced its concerns Thursday at a management authority meeting that followed a Town Board meeting.

“I know Mr. Kelly; I like Mr. Kelly; I get along with Mr. Kelly,” said Thomas McDonough, president of CSEA Town of North Hempstead Unit 7555. But “I’m very concerned with his qualifications. … He doesn’t have any experience besides contractual with solid waste management.”

As the agency’s director, Kelly will be in charge of managing North Hempstead’s waste transfer system, which handles 525 tons of waste daily, and administering the town’s garbage contracts.

In an interview Friday, Kelly said he disagreed with McDonough’s opinion, citing his familiarity with the agency’s operations, his knowledge of legal compliance and his skills in handling contracts.

Kelly is trained as a lawyer and worked for the North Hempstead Town Attorney’s office from 2013 to 2019, four of which he spent as the counsel for the authority.

“In that role, I wasn’t just advising on legal matters but also on operational issues,” Kelly said. "I have intimate knowledge of the operation."

Kelly compared leading the agency to running a corporation and said his experience and skills in budgets, capital plans, labor relations and contracts all prepared him to serve as the chief of Solid Waste Management Authority.

“I’m excited about the opportunity,” he said. “I left the town [for] a new challenge and I’m coming back to take on a new challenge.”

Kelly took a job last April as a Nassau County deputy attorney. Before joining North Hempstead Town in 2013, he worked for the real estate division of the Nassau County Department of Public Works.

“Michael knows how the Authority operates and how to manage everything from the capital budget to municipal budgets to working collaboratively with labor,” Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth wrote in an emailed statement Friday. “This combined with his comprehensive knowledge of the Town makes him a wonderful fit for this position.”

The town board on Thursday also approved employing Marshah-Reaff Barrett to serve as the management authority's deputy director. He will be paid $110,000 a year.

Marshah-Reaff previously worked at the New York City Department of Sanitation’s Bureau of Solid Waste Management, serving since 2007 as its Marine Transfer Station Environmental Compliance and Maintenance director.

In other personnel matters, the town board approved the selection of Tyronza Murray of Elmont, a former YMCA program manager in Queens, to lead the Yes We Can Community Center. Murray started on Monday, and her yearly salary will be $95,000.

Councilwoman Viviana Russell, the lone dissenter who voted no on Murray’s hiring, said she could not give her vote of confidence on the resolution because of her concerns with the hiring process. The vote was 5-1, with Councilwoman Lee Seeman absent.

“I have been and always have been very concerned with the cultural competency and the managerial styles at Yes We Can Community Center,” Russell said. “I feel the process was disingenuous and somewhat disrespectful to the candidates that applied.”

Russell said there was “a lack of cultural sensitivity” toward the residents, the community and the staff from the center’s leadership but declined to elaborate in a follow-up interview.

The center’s executive director oversees a $1.3 million budget at the 60,000-square-foot building. When it opened in 2012, the community center was touted as a "state of the art" facility that would help revitalize New Cassel.

The facility, however, struggled with membership and revenue. Former director April Brown-Lake resigned in 2015, and her successor, Denise Thomas, left in 2017. Since then, the facility had been run by Estefany Garay, who was its acting director.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified Marshah-Reaff Barrett, who will be deputy director of the Solid Waste Management Authority in North Hempstead Town.

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