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Judge temporarily bars Glen Cove from firing controller

Glen Cove Mayor Timothy Tenke at City Hall

Glen Cove Mayor Timothy Tenke at City Hall with Sandra Clarson, who was fired from her job as the city's controller in August but was reinstated Sept. 6 by a judge. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

A Nassau County Supreme Court judge has temporarily barred the city of Glen Cove from terminating its controller.

Judge Sharon Gianelli granted an application for a temporary restraining order on Friday, allowing Sandra Clarson, who was fired last month, to remain in her role pending a hearing.

“Today justice was served,” Clarson said. “I look forward to resuming my responsibilities as the controller of the City of Glen Cove.”

Mayor Timothy Tenke declined to comment.

Tenke called for Clarson to resign in July after she compiled a report showing the city had not deducted health insurance premiums from Tenke’s paychecks since he took office in January 2018. Stephanie Tanzi, an attorney for Tenke, said that it was Clarson’s responsibility to make those deductions, though Clarson disputes that.

Tenke said he also asked for Clarson’s resignation in December and brought in several candidates to interview for the position. The mayor, a Democrat, said all of them were “summarily dismissed” by the five Republican members of the city council, who all gave affidavits in support of Clarson.

Tanzi argued before Gianelli that there are other city officials who can fill in for the controller and that the matter doesn’t justify the “immediate intervention of the court."

Tip Henderson, Clarson's attorney, said it was critical that Clarson at least be temporarily reinstated so she can help prepare the budget, which needs to be finalized next month, and perform other duties.

Henderson said Clarson was unlawfully terminated and that according to the city charter can’t be removed unless a replacement has been installed.

The city council tabled a vote to appoint a new controller at its last meeting on Aug. 27. Instead, council members passed a resolution granting Deputy Mayor Maureen Basdavanos temporary authority to certify payroll and make certain budget transfers to ensure city employees are paid.

Henderson argued before Gianelli that the resolution was unlawful because it amounts to a revision of the city charter, which would require a local law be passed.  

City Attorney Charles McQuair is representing the city in the case but argued in favor of reinstating Clarson.

“The city cannot continue . . .without a chief financial officer,” McQuair said during the hearing.  

The city council approved hiring special counsel for Tenke at its last meeting, “so that he can have a voice the way he wants it to be heard,” McQuair said at the meeting. The resolution called for the city to retain counsel at a rate not to exceed $195 per hour, but McQuair said at the hearing that the firm “declined to execute” the retainer.

Another firm, Harris Beach, which has an office in Uniondale, was retained Friday, hours before the hearing.

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