On a divided, partisan vote, the North Hempstead Town Board on Thursday hired a lawyer to work on any future redistricting efforts.
The board voted 4-2 to approve an agreement to obtain legal services from Jeffrey Wice, the director of New York Law School’s Census and Redistricting Institute. Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena, who was elected on the Republican line, voted against the hiring, and her spokesman called it a “backroom” selection that was brought forward with scant notice.
Wice, who is also an adjunct professor at the law school, has worked for local governments throughout the state and nation to aid in nonpartisan redistricting efforts and has 40 years of experience in voting rights and census law. In the 1980s, Wice developed the first national Democratic Party redistricting assistance program and worked with elected officials to prepare for the 1990 redistricting. He has since served as counsel to the Democratic National Committee and other redistricting projects across the nation.
Wice also played a vital role in establishing councilmanic districts in North Hempstead in 2003. Councilwoman Veronica Lurvey, a Democrat, touted Wice’s efforts and said his familiarity with the town would serve North Hempstead and its residents well to prepare for any tentative redistricting efforts.
“His vast familiarity with New York state law and the Town of North Hempstead makes him an excellent resource for us,” Lurvey said during the Town Board’s meeting on Thursday.
Wice, in a phone interview, said he follows the law and will work to maintain an open and transparent process that incorporates the opinions of all stakeholders. He also mentioned a new state law which went into effect a few months ago, which requires the town and other localities in New York to follow a set of criteria that will make drawing lines that favor one party over the other more difficult.
The resolution to execute Wice’s work agreement, in an amount not to exceed $19,900, passed with DeSena and Councilman Dennis Walsh, a Republican, voting against it. Councilman David Adhami, also a Republican, was not present at the meeting. Four Democrats voted in favor.
DeSena claimed that Lurvey hand-picked Wice before discussing it with the rest of the board and submitted Wice’s redistricting proposal just 18 minutes before the deadline to submit resolutions for the meeting. Brian Devine, director of communications for the supervisor’s office, called Lurvey’s resolution on Wice a “backroom” and “handpicked” selection.
“The fact of the matter is that the Supervisor was simply presented with Mr. Wice’s name with nothing so much as a resumé along with it, and was asked to vote for the expenditure of funds from our hardworking taxpayers,” Devine said in a statement to Blank Slate Media. “A hiring like this only serves to further the public’s negative perception of redistricting and how the process is dictated by partisan politics.”
Lurvey, in a follow-up phone interview with Blank Slate Media, said she reached out to the board on Feb. 3 to discuss the initial redistricting process, with follow-up requests to discuss the topic sent to the board on Feb. 7 and 9. On Feb. 24, she said, she sent out an email informing the board of a need to “procure the services of consultants who specialize in redistricting matters” before submitting a resolution with Weiss’ proposal and resumé on March 2.
Lurvey said she is “tired of defending against press releases from the supervisor’s office or on her behalf that are not true.”
“She deliberately avoids communicating on the issues with me so that she can play victim in the press,” Lurvey continued.
At a meeting on Feb. 17, the board voted 4-3 along party lines to establish a seven-member nonpartisan temporary redistricting commission, with each board member appointing one person. The action represented a change from a decade ago when Jon Kaiman, then the town supervisor, had two additional picks, totaling nine for the commission.
Every 10 years, council districts are eligible to be redrawn in the town following the release of the latest census figures, which came out Aug. 12. According to the data, North Hempstead’s population increased 5 percent.
Redistricting is not mandatory but the commission can determine that it is necessary after an analysis of current district lines and the census data. Any reconfigurations would need to be approved by the Town Board, which Democrats control 4-3, and be completed within one year after the census data was released.
DeSena sought to strike the resolution establishing the panel, which was submitted by Lurvey, from the agenda at the beginning of the meeting. But Town Attorney John Chiara said the board in the past allowed agenda items to be removed only with unanimous consent, which was not granted.
DeSena said Kaiman’s proposition a decade ago allowed the supervisor to make appointments and give appropriate guidance to the committee. She said Lurvey’s resolution was similar to Kaiman’s but took away her two extra appointments.
The commission will be made up of Mary Kay Barket, DeSena’s nominee; Dana Boylan as chair, Councilman Robert Troiano Jr.’s nominee; Jill Wasser, Councilman Peter Zuckerman’s nominee; Sumeet Datt, Walsh’s nominee; Patricia Schneider, Lurvey’s nominee; David Yaudoon Chiang, Adhami’s nominee; and Harrison Feuer, Councilwoman Mariann Dalimonte’s nominee.
Brandon Duffy contributed reporting.