Democrats on the North Hempstead Town Board have called on state Attorney General Letitia James to look into the alleged misuse of taxpayer funds by Republican Supervisor Jennifer DeSena.
On Tuesday, Oct. 10, Democrats Veronica Lurvey and Mariann Dalimonte held a press conference on the steps of town hall in Manhasset to call on Nassau County Comptroller Elaine Philips, a Republican, to investigate the potential misconduct in DeSena hiring Brian J. Davis as a hearing officer for a town personnel matter.
Philips’ office declined to look into the matter, saying in a letter the issues presented would be more appropriately addressed by the town’s comptroller’s office, prompting Lurvey, Dalimonte and Democrat Peter Zuckerman to ask James to investigate.
“It is disheartening to witness such a swift dismissal of our request by the County Comptroller’s office. If the Comptroller can review the Town’s Building Department, why can’t she review the Supervisor’s office and the Town’s purchasing processes,” Lurvey said in a statement. “This is exactly the type of situation an impartial Comptroller’s office should be investigating.”
Davis, an attorney with a solo practice in Garden City, was the hearing officer during an investigation following harassment and retaliation complaints against North Hempstead Deputy Supervisor Joseph Scalero.
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 town documents.
Davis was hired as a hearing officer in the matter in December last year after an outside law firm hired by the town to investigate the matter recommended a formal hearing.
Davis eventually cleared Scalero earlier this year in the probe, a finding that LaBarbera disagreed with and said in her resignation letter to DeSena this summer she could not accept.
“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.
Town Democrats said the hiring of Davis–and the subsequent hourly rate he received of $350–did not follow North Hempstead’s town procurement policy that mandates board approval and a contract when paying for professional services.
DeSena again accused her town board colleagues of playing politics on a nonissue that was reviewed and found to be lacking credibility by an independent law firm and independent hearing officer.
DeSena last week pointed to the town’s grievance procedure in town code that allows the supervisor or their designee–in this case Davis–to conduct a formal hearing after an investigation into a complaint.
“The Majority Board members should instead focus on getting on board with my double-digit tax cut budget proposal and help North Hempstead taxpayers,” DeSena said in a statement. “I followed Town Code to the letter of the law, and to characterize my actions as ‘unlawful’ is a farce, considering our Town Attorney’s Office was involved in the process every step of the way and never once raised an objection in the nearly 10 months since the hiring of Mr. Davis.”
DeSena added that hiring Davis did not need town board approval because personnel matters follow a different process that is not under the town board’s jurisdiction.
Lurvey told Blank Slate Media DeSena is misleading when she said the town attorney’s office was involved in the process every step of the way.
“She did not involve the town attorney in the contract hiring Mr. Davis, nor did she involve the town board, as is required,” Lurvey said.
Lurvey confirmed that when she requested the contract spelling out the terms of Davis’ hiring, the town attorney’s office was unable to provide any contract.
The council member further questioned if a contract for Davis’ services exists, then who negotiated it and why was it done, along with Davis’ payment, in secret.
Democrats said the maximum rate for professional services is $275 and firms the town hires must come from a panel the seven-member town board approved in 2021.
Davis previously 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.”