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Hempstead Village awards jobs, contracts without public bids

Earlier this month, the Hempstead Village board of

Earlier this month, the Hempstead Village board of trustees approved two contracts and filled two jobs without seeking bids for the contracts or other candidates for the positions. From left, village trustees Perry Pettus, Lamont Johnson, mayor-elect Don Ryan and trustee Charles Renfroe celebrate their victory on Wednesday, March 22, 2017. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Hempstead Village board of trustees approved two contracts and filled two jobs without seeking bids for the contracts or other candidates for the positions.

The appointments, made hours after the new administration was sworn into office earlier this month, include a $100,000 job as research assistant to the board of trustees, a $78,000 contract to a Farmingdale public relations firm and a $65,000 job as secretary to the village volunteer fire department. The other contract is with a Mineola law firm, with rates of $100 per 15 minutes of work and higher, documents show.

Village officials said professional or personal service contract exemptions allow municipalities to forgo competitive bidding if the services require specialized skills or expertise.

“We needed to make a couple of moves fairly quickly,” Mayor Don Ryan said. All village trustees voted for the appointments.

Good-government group representatives said such “fast, hot-wired contracting” can raise transparency concerns.

“Our view is that the government should, as the normal course of business, put contracts out to bid,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit government watchdog organization.

David Gates, pastor at Miracle Christian Center in Hempstead and a member of the Hempstead school board, was appointed to serve as the board’s research assistant. The position is similar to that of a chief of staff or village administrator, Ryan said. Gates did not respond to requests for comment.

“The title is not as important as the role he’s going to play, a significant role as we move forward in the Village of Hempstead,” Ryan said. The salary is “commensurate with the skills and expectations that we have,” he said.

Sedgwick Easley, pastor of the Union Baptist Church in Hempstead, was given the job of secretary to the fire department. He is to focus on combating vacant, deteriorating “zombie” homes in the village, Ryan said. Neither Easley nor fire department officials could be reached for comment.

Both positions were approved on April 3 — initially the roles were switched and had to be corrected at the next night’s meeting — as one-year, full-time contracts with benefits, village officials said. Both pastors spoke at Ryan’s inauguration ceremony after the March 21 election.

Kevin Ryan Public Relations Inc. of Farmingdale was given the $78,000 contract, to run from June 1 to May 21, 2018, documents show. The firm performed work for one of the mayor’s opponents during the election. Kevin Ryan is not related to the mayor.

The law firm Bee Ready Fishbein Hatter & Donovan LLP of Mineola was hired to represent the village on election and general municipal law matters, as well as the North Main Street Project, a 10,000-square-foot office building and headquarters for the Dell Bus Co. The firm’s fee is $450 per hour for that project, but the village will pay $275 an hour. The project’s master developer, Plainview-based Renaissance Downtowns, will pick up the rest of the cost, documents show. For other legal work, the village is to pay between $100 and $275 per 15 minutes of work.

Ryan said the previous administration did not put its public relations or legal contracts out to bid “and I’m following suit.”

Bee Ready Fishbein Hatter & Donovan has represented Nassau County in labor and employment issues. The firm has donated to County Executive Edward Mangano’s campaigns and is a major contributor to the county GOP committee, a Newsday analysis shows.

A 2015 Newsday analysis found that Nassau County routinely awarded such personal or professional services contracts to companies that don’t propose the lowest cost.

Such contracts to politically connected companies have been at the center of both the federal corruption conviction of former state Sen. Dean Skelos and a federal investigation into Mangano’s chief deputy, Rob Walker.

With Paul LaRocco

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