Hempstead Town Tax Receiver Donald Clavin, a Republican elected townwide, last week asked the town board to help him uphold elected officials’ free speech after Democratic Supervisor Laura Gillen, also a townwide official, removed one of his news releases from Hempstead’s website.
In a letter to the town board and town clerk, Clavin said elected town officials should have the right “to have unrestricted access and the ability to post their press releases on the town’s website without the review and censorship of the administration’s staff. . . . After all, this is a taxpayer-funded website, not the private website belonging to one individual official.”
Clavin, a top town vote getter, is widely seen as a potential challenger to Gillen, the first Democratic elected supervisor in 100 years last year. Asked about his future, Clavin says only, “I love my job.”
Gillen’s communications officials removed Clavin’s release because “it had the look and feel of a press release from a political campaign, with both false and misleading information, and not relating at all to the powers of the local tax collector’s office,” Gillen spokesman Michael Fricchione said.
Clavin said he was told the release, which deals with notification of changes in property tax assessments, was taken down at Gillen’s direction because it mentioned County Executive Laura Curran. But it doesn’t mention Curran; it criticizes the county assessment office.
Clavin said he also was told it was taken down because it has nothing to do with town government. However, changes in assessments directly affect the town tax receiver, who calculates individual property tax bills after getting assessment data from the county.
In the news release, Clavin claimed victory after Nassau said it would continue to mail notices of changes in assessment to Nassau property owners on Jan. 2. That’s when the tentative assessment roll is issued and the two-month tax grievance period begins.
By next January, property values also should reflect a countywide reassessment completed this fall.
This year’s assessment letters, mailed by the new Curran administration, warned that the county would stop sending the Jan. 2 notices. The same warning stayed on the county’s website for months.
After Clavin had a news conference demanding that mailing continue, a Curran spokesman blamed the previous administration for the mistake and said Curran always intended to mail the notices.
Fricchione said the communications office was not calling the Newsday story about the notices “fake news,” only the news release.
Fricchione said he could not confirm that Gillen ordered Clavin’s release removed. He said the release was reposted after Clavin complained.
Although the County of Nassau website posts news releases from county elected officials of all political parties, there has never been a public complaint that the county executive removed another elected official’s post.