A Town of North Hempstead investigation of Thomas Tiernan, the former highway superintendent who Town Board Democrats recently proposed to return to the job, found in 2016 his conduct had “negatively reflected upon the Town and was unbecoming of a highway superintendent,” according to town documents.
Tiernan agreed at the time to resign his position rather than face disciplinary charges, the documents show.
“This resignation shall be permanent and irrevocable once this agreement is executed by Mr. Tiernan,” said one stipulation in the agreement.
Then North Hempstead Attorney Elizabeth Botwin cited vulgar language allegedly used by Tiernan about an executive for a truck equipment distributor in 2014 and 2015 in supporting the town’s charges.
Over the objections of the Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena, the four Democratic councilmembers recently proposed that Tiernan return to his job.
A resolution to appoint him without the Town Board searching for candidates was tabled at the May 19 meeting following hours of discussion. Town Board members announced at the time that they would open up the search for a highway superintendent while not ruling out Tiernan as a candidate.
The stipulation in 2016 that his resignation was “permanent and irrevocable” does not preclude Tiernan from being hired for his old position, according to Democratic Councilwoman Veronica Lurvey.
“I’ve been advised by the town attorney [John Chiara] that nothing in that clause limits the Town Board from hiring him back into town service,” Lurvey said in a statement to Blank Slate Media.
Tiernan resigned as highway superintendent in 2016 after the town conducted an investigation into a complaint involving a hostile relationship with a town vendor.
Tiernan was told he had been suspended for 60 days without pay in August 2016, according to a notice of discipline and charges given to him that have been verified by Blank Slate Media.
Tiernan resigned later that year following reports in Newsday that he had amassed over $130,000 in overtime between 2011 and 2016.
The external investigation by the town attorney’s office centered around a 2015 complaint from Robert Hamilton, the executive vice president of Bohemia-based truck equipment distributor Trius, who town documents said was verbally abused by Tiernan.
Tiernan, according to town documents, expressed frustration with the late delivery of two dump-style body snow removal trucks and later told other vendors at a Dec. 4 dinner in Manhattan “don’t buy anything from him” while directing a series of four-letter words at Hamilton, who was at the steakhouse dinner himself.
Hamilton wrote a letter to Tiernan concerning the dinner and the relationship between Trius and the town. He later showed the letter to guests at a Town of Oyster Bay holiday party in 2014 where Tiernan refused to shake hands or have a private conversation with him, the documents said.
During the town’s investigation, Tiernan was questioned about his conduct including the Dec. 4 dinner. The documents show that Tiernan denied using “abusive or hostile language towards Mr. Hamilton during the course of the dinner.”
The town determined that “Mr. Tiernan knew his answers were false,” according to the documents.
DeSena, a registered Democrat who was elected running as a Republican, attempted to read the charges made against Tiernan at a Town Board meeting but was stopped by Democratic council members.
Tiernan’s potential hiring has been at the core of a recent battle between Republicans and Democrats on the Town Board.
DeSena previously called on Lurvey to withdraw her resolution appointing Tiernan.
“It’s extremely clear for anyone to see that Mr. Tiernan was handpicked in a backroom deal by Councilwoman Lurvey as no prior discussion, rationale or explanation was given as to how, when, where and why, Mr. Tiernan was chosen,” DeSena said at a Town Hall news conference May 9.
Lurvey strongly denied the supervisor’s claims while saying all seven Town Board members had the chance to discuss Tiernan’s appointment.
“The Highway Department is responsible for the maintenance and repair of 300 miles of town roads, including pavement and drainage, tree planting, street sweeping, and snow removal. Mr. Tiernan did a phenomenal job as town highway superintendent, possessing nearly four decades of experience with the town,” Lurvey said. “He is someone who knows North Hempstead and cares deeply about our residents.”
During the discussion of Tiernan’s appointment at the May 19 meeting, Hamilton spoke to the Town Board about his support for Tiernan’s potential appointment while adding the two have reconciled since.
He told the Town Board he had a “tough conversation” with Tiernan, whom he called a “passionate individual,” in 2015 and hoped it didn’t have any bearing on his impending employment.
“I will say even then, Tom was held in very high regard for the job he did as the highway superintendent department he helped build and ran with great efficiency,” Hamilton said. “I hope that puts any of the controversy surrounding my past conversation with him to rest.”
Tiernan had worked with the town since 1980 and was named highway chief in 2000. Following Tiernan’s resignation, Joe Geraci, the deputy commissioner of public works at the time, served as the town’s acting highway superintendent from 2016 to September 2018, when the town officially began its search for a full-time superintendent.
After Geraci, Kevin Cronin, then administrative assistant to Supervisor Judi Bosworth, was the acting commissioner. His salary in 2019 was $117,507, according to town payroll filings.
Richard Baker became the first permanent highway chief in 2019, just over two years since Tiernan resigned. After his February appointment, Baker resigned that July, just four months after he had gotten the job. At the time of his resignation, Baker was earning $140,000 according to Newsday.
Succeeding Baker was Harry Weed, who was terminated from his position May 19, creating the current opening.