Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman has shaken up the leadership of the Nassau County jail, replacing Michael Sposato, commissioner of corrections for the past 15 months, with Ronald Hartung.
Blakeman, a Republican, announced the change in a social media post Saturday that included a photo of Hartung being sworn in as acting commissioner. He will make $142,000 annually overseeing operations at the jail.
Sposato has accepted a position as Nassau University Medical Center's executive director of public safety and investigations, with an annual salary of $275,000, according to NuHealth, the public benefit corporation that runs NUMC.
The appointments mark the latest political move at the jail and the county's financially struggling public hospital system, whose campuses border each other in East Meadow.
WHAT TO KNOW
- Michael Sposato, commissioner of corrections at the Nassau County jail for the past 15 months, has been replaced by department veteran Ronald Hartung.
- Sposato has accepted a position as Nassau University Medical Center's executive director of public safety and investigations.
- The county's correction officers' union, which had criticized Sposato's appointment last year, praised the change in leadership.
Blakeman appointed Sposato, a former Nassau sheriff and major donor to local Republicans, as commissioner of corrections in 2022. The decision drew criticism from Brian Sullivan, president of the correction officers' union, who said in a speech to county legislators that Sposato's tenure as sheriff from 2008 to 2018 was "a reign of destruction" marked by cost-cutting measures, unsafe conditions and low morale.
"It's nice to see that there's some change. He's moved on to greener pastures," said Sullivan, whose union in October agreed to a new contract with Blakeman's administration. "Hopefully, we'll see some positive changes going on in that place."
Sposato declined to comment Monday.
In 2011, he and then-County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, led a push to replace NUMC as the jail's health care provider with Armor Correctional Health Services, a for-profit company, in a bid to save costs.
The results were disastrous, according to county legislators, jail reform advocates and state reports. State agencies conducted investigations into a series of inmate deaths at the jail after Armor took over and said the company failed to provide adequate health care.
Then-Democratic County Executive Laura Curran fired Sposato upon taking office in 2018. NUMC now provides care for the jail's inmates.
Blakeman said in a statement Monday: "Commissioner Sposato initiated efficiency programs at the jail that saved taxpayers money and made sure the surrounding community was protected. I wish him well in his new position."
Matthew Bruderman, appointed by Blakeman as NuHealth chairman, said Sposato "is uniquely positioned to ensure [that] our more than 275,000 patients per year and our staff have a safe and secure environment."
NUMC "not only faces the widest range of medical challenges of any hospital, but it is also a hub of emergency services activity for the county," Bruderman said. The health system must "prepare for any and all possible security threats including terrorist attacks and gang violence as Nassau’s Level One Trauma Center and the tallest building on Long Island."
In 1999, Hartung was a Nassau County correction officer when he was charged along with four others with third-degree assault in connection with the beating of jail inmate Ennis Hightower, who was awaiting trial on a robbery charge.
More than two months later, a Nassau County judge dismissed the charges against Hartung and one of the other officers, John Kennedy. In May 2000, a state appellate court reinstated the charges.
A Nassau County judge acquitted Hartung and Kennedy later that year after a trial.
Sullivan said Hartung "went through the whole system. He was tried; he was found not guilty. To me, the judicial system worked."
Hartung did not immediately comment Monday. Sullivan said he has the right experience for the role of corrections commissioner.
"He's a hard-nosed guy. He's a stickler for the rules and regulations," Sullivan said. "He's not one of these guys who's going to go around nitpicking or looking to cut things. He's got an old-school mentality to him, and that's definitely something this place can use."