North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena speaks during a town...

North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena speaks during a town board meeting in Manhasset on Tuesday. Credit: Barry Sloan

A new Town of North Hempstead law will require Supervisor Jennifer DeSena to provide a report on a review that she previously said revealed "a deeply flawed" and "scandal-plagued" town building department and led her to ask Nassau County's comptroller to audit its operations.

DeSena in July held a news conference where she said her office did a “complete and thorough review” of the department’s operations during her first six months in office in 2022. But she didn't elaborate on specific findings.

Since then, Democratic board members have requested to see the findings and ultimately put forth the resolution that passed Tuesday that will require DeSena to hand over a report.

Just last week, DeSena called on town building officials not to obstruct the comptroller’s audit, telling Newsday at first that they hadn't turned over requested records. A day later, she confirmed they only turned over some records seeking information on recent building permit applicants after her intervention. 

County comptroller's office spokeswoman Wendy L. Goldstein told Newsday last week that town Building Commissioner John Niewender wouldn't turn over the additional documents without a subpoena or a Freedom of Information Law request before DeSena urged cooperation and he relented.

Niewender, who was not at Tuesday's council meeting, noted last week in an email to Newsday he had some legal concerns about turning over records without a FOIL request.

Some council Democrats have pointed to an improvement in the building department's operations in the last few years and a union leader for town building workers said last week the department is "grossly understaffed."

Tuesday's measure passed 4-3, with DeSena and two Republican council members, Dennis J. Walsh and David A. Adhami, casting dissenting votes. DeSena is a Democrat who caucuses with Republicans.

“This resolution is about getting the facts,” Councilwoman Veronica Lurvey said Tuesday.

“We would like, as council people, to see the completed report, because we haven’t been able to see it," Councilman Robert Troiano added.

But council members won't see anything just yet, with DeSena declaring at Tuesday's meeting: "I never said I created a report."

The supervisor's comment followed previous statements she's made that her review had consisted of conversations with department heads, residents and architects.

The adopted law says she'll have 10 days to provide a report, including details such as all documents exchanged between her office and the building department, summaries of interviews with staff and recommendations or concerns related to permit review times, allocation of resources and fee payments.

“Obviously, since you are voting 'yes,' I’m going to comply. I will create the report that you have asked for … If you would like to tie up my staff creating a report for political purposes, I’ll comply," DeSena also said at Tuesday's meeting.

North Hempstead building employees wear hats showing their union affiliation...

North Hempstead building employees wear hats showing their union affiliation during a meeting of the town board in Manhasset on Tuesday. Credit: Barry Sloan

 The comptroller’s audit began in August and is looking at the building department's operations and procedures, including the online portal, performance monitoring and regulatory compliance.

Several building department employees attended Tuesday's meeting wearing hats with the logo of their union, CSEA. 

Thomas McDonough, who heads the local CSEA unit, said at the meeting that unionized building department employees shouldn’t be put in the middle of any political feud and using the word “scandal” makes people assume there’s corruption.

In 2007, a 16-month investigation into allegations of corruption led to the arrests and convictions of several North Hempstead building department employees.

Referencing that probe, McDonough said "the overwhelming majority" of building employees "weren’t even here in 2007.”

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