Two Democrats on the North Hempstead Town Board have accused Republican Supervisor Jennifer DeSena of illegally hiring and paying an attorney who she designated as the hearing officer in a harassment case regarding a senior staff member in her office.
Council Members Mariann Dalimonte and Veronica Lurvey held a press conference on the steps of town hall in Manhasset to call on Nassau County Comptroller Elaine Philips’ office and North Hempstead Board of Ethics to investigate DeSena’s alleged misconduct.
Tuesday’s press conference followed a report in Newsday on Monday that Deputy Supervisor Joseph Scalero was cleared in an internal investigation into harassment and retaliation complaints. The presiding officer in the investigation who cleared Scalero, Brian J. Davis, was hired unilaterally and unlawfully by DeSena, the Democrats said.
“We are left with many unanswered questions,” said Lurvey, who is running for town receiver of taxes. “What circumstances led Supervisor DeSena to the decision to hire Brian Davis for the hearing in this harassment claim.”
Lurvey said Davis, who has a solo practice in Garden City, was a Republican “megadonor” who made 72 donations to the Republican party and its candidates alongside a posterboard of the donations from 2002 to this year totaling over $11,000.
“We owe it to our employees to get to the bottom of what happened here at town hall,” Lurvey said.
“Supervisor DeSena has purportedly made ethics the cornerstone of her tenure,” said Dalimonte, who is running for re-election. “Yet she has blatantly violated both ethical standards and the law with this illegal hiring and payment.”
DeSena, who is running for re-election against former Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman, called the Tuesday press conference an “October political stunt representing the last dying gasps of a Town Board majority desperate to hold on to power.”
DeSena pointed to the grievance procedure in town code that stipulates the supervisor or their designee conduct a formal hearing after an investigation into the original complaint.
The supervisor added that hiring Davis did not need town board approval because personnel matters are confidential and it falls under her responsibility to “exercise any potential disciplinary sanctions.”
“To characterize my actions as ‘unlawful’ when I followed Town Code to the letter of the law is not only disingenuous, it’s completely inappropriate, especially given the fact that the Town Attorney’s Office was aware of Brian Davis’ role as hearing officer in this case for nearly 10 months and never once brought up an objection,” DeSena said.
Lurvey said the town’s procurement policy mandates board approval and a contract when paying for professional services and that Davis was hired at an hourly rate of $350, which is higher than the town’s hourly maximum of $275 when paying for professional services.
Davis said to Blank Slate Media he had been a hearing officer for personnel matters in Oyster Bay before and that he’s been an attorney for over 40 years.
“I gave everyone a very fair hearing, I ran it along the lines of a trial, although there were certain guidelines that weren’t strict with evidence, everybody was given an opportunity to speak,” Davis said. “I just didn’t think that the case was that compelling.”
Davis laughed at the idea of being called a megadonor, saying “I wish I had a billion dollars and I was a megadonor for something.”
Town Attorney John Chiara filed an equal employment opportunity complaint against Scalero on behalf of Moira LaBarbera–the town’s ex-director of purchasing–in July 2022, according to Newsday.
The town then hired law firm Lamb & Barnosky LLP to investigate the matter and create a report, where they recommended a formal hearing, according to town officials.
Davis was then hired in December 2022 as the probe’s hearing officer, according to town records.
LaBarbera disagreed with Davis’ findings in the probe clearing Scalero, and said in her resignation later to DeSena that she can no longer work for the town due to the environment.
“I can no longer work in this hostile and retaliatory environment perpetuated by both you and the Town,” LaBarbera wrote to DeSena in July when she resigned, according to Newsday.
Efforts to reach Scalero for comment were unavailing.