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Hempstead Town votes for personnel moves, approves union changes

Hempstead Town Supervisor Anthony Santino presided over his final meeting Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017, which granted promotions, raises and transfers to 192 workers, and union changes that protect employees from layoffs for budget reasons. It's seen by incoming Supervisor-elect Laura Gillen as a ploy to hinder her and her administration from making certain decisions not agreeable with Santino while she's in office. (Newsday/Yeong-Ung Yang)

Outgoing Hempstead Town Supervisor Anthony Santino presided Tuesday over sweeping changes to the town’s union labor contract and ushered in 192 personnel moves during his final meeting as the head of the town board.

Supervisor-elect Laura Gillen vowed to undo the measures when she takes office next month.

“The board voted to protect their friends and ignore the taxpayers,” she said after meeting.

Members of the audience appeared to be split between the two supervisors’ camps, with applause and standing ovations for both. At other times, residents wearing party hats booed Santino and blew into noisemakers to celebrate the end of his tenure.

The town board voted during a five-hour meeting to approve legislation concerning an inspector general/compliance officer, mass mailing restrictions, the union’s collective bargaining agreement and nearly 200 personnel changes.

“I’m disappointed but I’m not surprised,” Gillen said. “You can’t make up the stuff that happens at these town board meetings.”

The personnel votes and union changes drew the most condemnation among the town board members and from the audience, some of whom carried signs that said, “Vote no to the patronage amendment.”

Among the personnel matters, the board voted 5-2 to transfer town spokesman Mike Deery to the Office of the Receiver of Taxes, where he will continue to draw his $205,000 salary as the confidential assistant to the receiver of taxes. Councilmen Bruce Blakeman and Erin King Sweeney voted no. The board voted unanimously to deny transfers to two members of Santino’s inner circle — Matt Coleman, Santino’s town senior policy adviser and his campaign spokesman, and Theresa Gaffney, Santino’s executive assistant and the deputy mayor of East Rockaway — to community research assistants in other departments.

The board also voted unanimously to promote 30 part-time workers to full-time status as part of a previous legal settlement. The board members additionally voted 5-2 to grant appointments, promotions, transfers and raises to 161 other employees, including the brother of Councilman Anthony D’Esposito and outgoing Town Clerk Nasrin Ahmad. Blakeman and Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby voted no. D’Esposito recused himself from voting on his brother’s promotion and raise after coming under fire in March for voting in favor of a raise for his mother, a secretary in the highway department.

The town board approved 4-3 changes to the union’s collective bargaining agreement so that no town union employee can be terminated for budgetary reasons — only for misconduct or incompetence. Gillen previously vowed to file a lawsuit if the changes were passed.

“This may be legal, but this is corruption,” Blakeman said.

Following eight months of calls for ethics reform from Blakeman and King Sweeney, the board also passed 6-1 legislation concerning an inspector general/compliance officer, who would monitor possible waste and corruption within town government. But the bill that passed lacked the title “inspector general” at Councilman Dennis Dunne’s request.

“This is nothing more than a watered-down version of what an inspector general should be,” Blakeman said.

The board defeated other inspector general legislation, sponsored by King Sweeney, in a 5-2 vote.

King Sweeney said that whatever legislation was passed, “I think it’s a good first attempt.”

Dunne, who is a veteran, proposed taking “inspector general” out of the law’s title because general is the military’s highest rank. Dunne also acknowledged recent scandals in Nassau County and the Town of Oyster Bay.

“There’s been no alleged corruption or arrests in the Town of Hempstead,” he said to boos and shouts of “not yet!” from the audience.

Councilman Ed Ambrosino’s March arrest on federal charges of wire fraud and income-tax evasion was not related to his role on the town board.

The board also voted unanimously to enact restrictions to mass mailings, prohibiting incumbents from sending them out within 45 days of an election.

When Gillen takes office in January, the town board will go from a 6-1 to 5-2 Republican majority.

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