The people have spoken – but the Town of Hempstead board did not listen.
The Hempstead board voted to amend a union contract to prevent layoffs and approve 192 personnel changes on Monday during Supervisor Anthony Santino’s last meeting, despite a room packed with residents booing Santino and pleading for the board to reconsider the resolutions.
The changes include transferring the Republican supervisor’s secretaries, clerks and executive assistants to other departments.
“This is Christmas for the well connected and a lump of coal for the taxpayers,” said Town Councilman Bruce Blakeman, a Republican who voted against the proposals.
Supervisor-Elect Laura Gillen, who attended the meeting, said Santino is trying to destroy the town’s finances before her administration even starts.
The board voted 4-3 in favor of the contract amendment, eliminating the board’s power to terminate an employee for budgetary reasons.
Town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, a Republican, and Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, the only Democrat on the board, were also no votes.
The board also voted to approve 192 promotions, transfers and hirings. The original resolution had 194 transfers to approve, but the board pulled Matt Coleman, senior policy adviser and director of public affairs, and Theresa Gaffney, executive assistant to the supervisor, from the list.
Thirty part-time workers, were voted into their positions unanimously in a separate vote, per request from Blakeman.
Also included in the personnel changed were the appointments of outgoing Town Clerk Nasrin Ahmad and Town Councilman Anthony D’Esposito’s brother to new positions in a 5-2 vote.
Ahmad lost to Town Clerk-Elect Sylvia Cabana, Democrat, in November.
“This may be legal but this is corruption,” Blakeman said. “This is corruption of priorities, it’s a corruption of values and it’s a corruption of what we stand for. And it’s a blatant corruption of power.”
Blakeman and Sweeney both voted in favor of instating an inspector general, but lost the 5-2 vote.
Rather than an inspector general, the board voted to establish a compliance officer. All but Blakeman approved the vote.
Blakeman said, “This is nothing more than a watered down version of what an inspector general is.”
“This isn’t Bud Light, it’s near beer,” Blakeman added.
While Sweeney said she agreed with many of Blakeman’s concerns, she said she voted yes because she believes it is a step in the right direction.
“Whether we call it inspector general or Santa Claus I don’t care,” Sweeney said. “I’m just trying to get certain results.”
Gillen sat quietly in the audience of the meeting on Monday, while residents cheered any time her name was mentioned – waving “Laura Gillen” signs, wearing party hats and blowing noise makers in celebration.
The other half of Tuesday’s audience was filled with town employees — possibly getting paid on taxpayer dollars to attend the six hour meeting, Gillen said. The crowd spilled into the hallway, with security limiting the occupancy.
“We can see it’s business as usual,” Gillen said. “[Santino’s] operated an administration that tries to shut out the public and keep everyone in the dark.”
Gillen said in a press conference Monday, that when she takes over on Jan. 1 Hempstead will no longer be a “party town,” but rather a “people town.
”These backroom deals waste taxpayer money and constrain my administration from being able to curve patronage bloat and bring a fiscally sound government to Hempstead,” Gillen said. “Meanwhile Tony’s cronies will be collecting bloated salaries and health insurance for life and all taxpayers will suffer.”
Moving forward, Blakeman said he’s hopeful that the board and new supervisor will be able to work things out. He said much of what was passed today could have been worked out in an agreement that would have benefited the taxpayers, without “shoving it down people’s throats.”
Gillen said when she takes over, she will do everything she can to undo the amendment.
Gillen said she won’t rest until “Tony Santino’s thievery and reign of terror sit with him on the ash heap of history.”
Valerie Lampe, a Baldwin resident, said the magical word in the the amendment is “incompetence.”
Though the amendment makes it so the board can’t lay off workers for budgetary reasons, Lampe said “brick by brick we will turn the town around.”
“I want to let you know, soon-to-be former Supervisor Santino, we already fired you for incompetence,” Lampe said. “And we will continue to do the rest.”
Though Santino’s proposals passed, Gillen said the hordes of active, vocal residents present at the meeting make her feel like the “good guys won.”