Supervisor Jennifer DeSena announced Monday that she has sent a letter requesting an audit into the town’s “broken” Building Department to Nassau Comptroller Elaine Philips.
“The Building Department has been an ineffectual mess for more than 15 years now,” DeSena said Monday at a news conference in front of the town’s Building Department. “It’s time we finally stopped paying lip service to the problem. Instead, we must be willing to consider every possible way to fix the problem.”
DeSena, elected as a Republican, was joined by Democratic Council members Mariann Dalimonte and Veronica Lurvey, who voiced their support for fixing and reviewing the Building Department.
“I welcome the county comptroller’s fiscal audit and look forward to the fiscal audit team’s financial findings,” Lurvey said.
On July 8, DeSena sent a letter to Philips asking for a full audit of the Building Department.
“I believe that the results of this audit will deliver us a roadmap detailing what is ailing the department and the best way forward to implement meaningful change,” DeSena wrote.
Philips’ office confirmed receipt of the letter in a statement.
“The Comptroller’s Office has a process in place for the independent review of requests for audits and has commenced this process,” the office said.
DeSena said whether the audit is financial or operational, its scope if conducted is determined by the Comptroller’s Office.
In 2017, Nassau Supreme Court Justice Roy Mahon ruled that then Comptroller George Maragos exceeded his authority when seeking to conduct a performance audit in the Hempstead Town Animal Shelter, Newsday reported.
Maragos issued subpoenas that went beyond the shelter’s budget and financials and were quashed, Newsday reported.
The town’s Building Department has been a focal point for the town and was one of the major issues DeSena campaigned on last year.
In April, DeSena proposed a resolution mandating the town’s Building Department commissioner, John Niewender, to make a decision on expedited permits within seven days and removing the Town Board’s ability to override the department’s decisions. The reform was initially blocked by Democrats and reintroduced at a later meeting following changes in wording that avoided potential legal obstacles.
Lurvey also submitted a similar resolution aimed at the Building Department that would “make modifications to the procedure on requests for expedited permit application review.”
Both officials acknowledged that the pieces of legislation focused on similar goals and the Town Board has been working over the summer to introduce a bipartisan piece of legislation at an upcoming board meeting.
The Town Board also unanimously passed a resolution this year that requires monthly reports from the Building Department be given to the Town Board as opposed to annually.
Lurvey has continued to detail the improvements the Building Department has seen since she was elected over three years ago, including more staff hires, offering extended hours to employees and installing the Citizenserve software platform.
North Hempstead was the first municipality in the state to use Citizenserve, which provides online Building Department services for residents and can be accessed at www.mytonh.com.
Dalimonte echoed Lurvey’s remarks, welcoming an audit from Philips and her team while touting the importance of the monthly reports.
“It’s important that any strategies or reforms are based on factual information and not simply reacting to anecdotal accounts that may not necessarily tell the whole story,” Dalimonte said. “I also believe we should have a complete and thorough examination of the Building Department.
DeSena called the department “scandal-plagued”
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.