North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena announced Wednesday she has submitted a resolution mandating the town building department commissioner make a decision on expedited permits within seven days and removing the Town Board’s ability to override the department’s decisions.
DeSena said the two changes were intended to streamline the application process and prevent corruption.
“No other town on Long Island has a provision like this,” DeSena said regarding the ability of council members to override department decisions. “This arrangement is legally improper and leaves the door wide open for potential corruption, favoritism, and the development of a pay-to-play atmosphere to ensure the approval of an expedited application.”
DeSena said at a press conference outside Town Hall that since her administration began over 80 days ago her goal was to “streamline town government and make it more efficient whenever possible.”
Under her proposed resolution, applicants would be able to submit expedited permit requests if it is an emergency or advances the public interest such as job creation and economic development.
The current local law gives the supervisor and councilmember from the permit’s district a five-day window after a decision by the commissioner to offer comments and recommendations.
According to Chapter 2 of the North Hempstead Town Code, the building department commissioner’s determinations can be overridden by a contrary recommendation from the two elected officials.
Over the past five years, 390 expedited permit requests were disapproved by the building department with 56, or 14.4 percent, of them being overridden by a member of the Town Board.
In that same time period, no expedited permits that were approved were ever overridden.
DeSena said the current provision has hindered the department, which she said is referred to as one of the worst on Long Island, adding it is in need of a “culture change.”
The local law was added to Town Code on May 29, 2007, the same year 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.
DeSena’s proposal was panned by Councilwoman Veronica Lurvey, one of four Democrats on the Town Board who have repeatedly clashed with the recently elected town supervisor.
Lurvey suggested DeSena “go back to the drawing board” saying the proposals wouid do harm to the town. She said current regulations allow council members to advocate on behalf of their district while also cutting through red tape.
“I think that the supervisor has no idea what she’s talking about,” Lurvey said to Blank Slate Media. “She is proposing legislation that would be harmful to residents and business owners who apply for an expedited permit review and slow the process down. The process that’s in place right now has been in place since 2007. It was put in place because the building department wasn’t approving and not expediting requests and this was a way to fix that problem.”
The councilwoman and supervisor met Thursday regarding other town issues, but the seven-member Town Board will not be meeting to discuss DeSena’s proposal prior to their March 31 meeting.
“I’m really at a loss to understand how this fixes a problem in the building department and I think the supervisor needs to go back to the drawing board and present some reform that helps, not hurts our residents and business owners.”
DeSena said reform is the first of many she plans to roll out, with more coming as early as her State of the Town Address next week.
The Town Board will consider DeSena’s resolution next Thursday and decide whether to hold a public hearing date for her proposed local law.
If approved, a public hearing to consider the local law would take place at the April 28 Town Board meeting.