Building Dept. complies with audit after DeSena intervenes

Building Dept. complies with audit after DeSena intervenes
North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena recently called on Building Department officials to cooperate with the ongoing audit. (Photo courtesy of the supervisor's office)

North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena said Thursday she recently had to intervene on behalf of an audit she had requested of the town Building Department by the Nassau Country comptroller when certain documents were not turned over. 

“As part of the independent audit, the county comptroller is fully within their rights to request any and all information they deem relevant to the process, so refusing a records request and potentially impeding the comptroller’s audit is quite alarming,” DeSena said in a statement. “When I was notified by auditors that the department wasn’t complying, I immediately stepped in, and reiterated to the commissioner directly that the department is to cooperate fully and fulfill any request from the comptroller’s office.”

DeSena said since she made her request the Building Department has provided the requested records to the auditors. She said they included details surrounding the last 200 permit applications to come into the department.

“Going forward, our Building Department must be open, honest, and transparent in this process and without any delays,” added DeSena, a Republican.

North Hempstead spokesman Gordon Tepper, who was appointed by the Town Board, said the Building Department’s initial response to the request was that it was outside the scope of the audit period and asked for clarification from the comptroller’s office. 

“Subsequently, the comptroller’s office clarified by expanding their audit period so the documents could be provided, and they then asked for a multitude of additional documents,” Tepper said in a statement to Blank Slate Media. “The Building Department provided the requested documents on Tuesday, Jan. 31 – two days prior to the comptroller’s deadline. The Building commissioner actually responded within a week, despite the comptroller’s substantial expansion of the audit period.”

Wendy Goldstein, the comptroller’s spokeswoman, told Blank Slate Media that the audit scope has not been expanded and record requests are a routine part of the audit process.

Councilmember Veronica Lurvey, a Democrat, criticized DeSena for involving herself in the audit.

“I have great concerns over the appropriateness of the supervisor’s interference in the audit process. We expect an independent audit, and it would be deeply disturbing if the supervisor were trying to politicize or unethically influence the audit,” Lurvey said in a statement. “Politicizing the audit would be an unfortunate way for the supervisor to shift attention from her empathic endorsement of George Santos.”

At the upcoming meeting on Feb. 7, the Town Board will hold a hearing to consider a law requiring DeSena to turn over the “complete and thorough review” the supervisor said she conducted of the Building Department over the first six months of her administration before asking for an audit. 

The Building Department, led by Commissioner John Niewender, has been frequently criticized by elected officials and residents for long delays in processing permits.

The comptroller’s office, which is headed by Republican Elaine Phillips, announced in August it would audit department operations from Jan. 1, 2020 to “present time” at the request of DeSena, who campaigned on streamlining government operations.

The request, made in July, was supported by Democratic Town Board members.

Last year, several pieces of legislation were passed by the Town Board intended to make the Building Department more efficient.

In 2007, five Building Department officials were indicted after a 16-month investigation by then Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice for receiving favors and payments in exchange for granting permits without inspections.

All five were later convicted, including former Commissioner David Wasserman, who was sentenced to one year in jail in 2008 after pleading guilty to grand larceny and falsifying business records.

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