The voters of the Town of Hempstead elected Laura Gillen supervisor to end the nepotism, cronyism and self-dealing that has bloated their tax bills. Now, days before he’s booted from town hall, Anthony Santino wants to hijack the future of Hempstead with a disenfranchising power grab designed to reward his loyalists, undermine Gillen’s new administration and spur his comeback.
Republicans have enjoyed a century of uninterrupted power in Hempstead, and they’ve often used that time to pad the payroll with sycophants and apparatchiks whose only goal is to keep the party in power. Now, in Tuesday’s town board meeting, Santino will attempt to blatantly redefine machine politics in a way that takes every taxpayer hostage, and booby-traps efforts to restore honest governing, all the while waving a red flag for federal prosecutors.
Santino is planning several maneuvers to tighten his hold. The most egregious is an amendment to the Civil Service Employees Association contract that says “no employee shall be terminated for reasons due to budgetary, economy, consolidation, abolition of functions, abolition of position or curtailment of activities but may be terminated only for misconduct or incompetence.” The town’s five-year contract with the CSEA, which allows layoffs, was just approved in July. Santino clearly didn’t feel a need to have a no-layoffs provision then.
This post-election change of heart includes none of the givebacks normally traded for such a guarantee. And it comes at a time when Congress is very close to restricting or eliminating deductions for property taxes. Such a move in Washington could be devastating for our economy. Yet Gillen’s hands would be tied in responding to any such fiscal crisis.
Santino is also pressuring the board to vote on changes to job descriptions, titles, departmental assignments and pay rates for 192 town employees, many of them appointees who still would not be protected by the “no-layoff” resolution unless they were moved to these new roles. Many of these highly paid workers are Santino’s palace guard as well as the inner circle of the GOP friends-and-family operation. This group includes assistants and secretaries of Santino and board members, and high-ranking employees. Town spokesman Mike Deery would keep his $205,000 salary but instead of spinning of behalf of the supervisor he would become “confidential assistant to the receiver of taxes.” Queried as to who last had that job and what he or she was paid, the town has not answered. Town Clerk Nasrin Ahmad, who lost her election to Gillen running mate Sylvia Cabana, would become deputy commissioner of the Department of Occupational Resources at a salary of $129,500.
Gillen has said she will review all employees based on merit, and will keep those who work on behalf of the taxpayers, not the party. But if three board members betray the voters and sell their souls in the process, the fresh start her campaign promised voters will be thwarted. Santino will have destroyed his reputation and credibility along with the documents Gillen says are going missing in town hall. And the Hempstead GOP will have sent itself into the wilderness for a very long time. — The editorial board