Gillen announces hiring freeze, blasts town board appeal in suit

Janelle Clausen
Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen standing alongside attorney Matthew Didora Wednesday morning outside the Nassau County Supreme Court building. (Photo by Jed Hendrixson)

Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen announced an immediate hiring freeze in the town Wednesday, calling for a halt on all raises, promotions and hiring in departments not meeting budgeted appropriations for full-time employees.

Gillen said that the town has given nearly $1 million in such unbudgeted raises, transfers and promotions so far this year, so action was necessary to prevent a fiscal crisis.

“This shell game the Council plays with the budget has to stop. It’s hurting taxpayers who depend on essential services and only helping the already well-fed and connected,” Gillen said in a statement. “As chief financial officer of this Town, it gives me no pleasure to report that the Town budget is currently being abused and misused, and unfortunately it seems like it’s being done to reward friends of the Republican Party,” Gillen said.

Town Councilman Anthony D’Esposito, a Republican, told Newsday that Gillen has a $2 million payroll.

“Who does Supervisor Laura Gillen think she is kidding? D’Esposito said. “After larding up her personal staff with a $2 million payroll, she now claims to be concerned about municipal hiring.”

The move follows the Hempstead Town Board voting to appoint Thomas Muscarella, a Garden City Republican, to fill a vacancy left by Second District Councilman Edward Ambrosino, who resigned on April 3 after pleading guilty to felony tax evasion. Gillen voted against Muscarella’s appointment, suggesting it would give him an unfair advantage in the November elections.

“Granting incumbency to someone already on the ballot sends the message that this town doesn’t want to change, but our residents know and want better,” Gillen said on Twitter. “They will see through this move like they’ve seen through so many things in #HempsteadTown.”

The move also comes after the Town Board filed a notice of appeal last Tuesday, pushing back against a Nassau County Supreme Court decision that voided a no layoff provision passed just before Gillen took office.

In December 2017, during Republican Supervisor Anthony Santino’s last meeting, the Town Board voted 4-3 to amend a union contract to approve more than 190 personnel transfers and implement a no layoff clause for union workers. Among them were 14 employees from Santino’s office and his clerk’s office.

Gillen, who is a Democrat, and a group of “resident taxpayers” sued Santino, the Town Board,and Civil Service Employees Association Local 880 in April 2018 in a bid to nullify the contract.

In March, Nassau County Supreme Court Judge Randy Sue Marber voided the no layoff provision but upheld the personnel transfers, finding that the board’s passage of the amendment “undeniably represents a concrete and particularized harm to Supervisor Gillen and the taxpayers.”

According to court documents, Santino and Town Councilman Anthony D’Esposito, who voted in favor of the amendment, should have abstained from the vote because they had family members who would benefit from the amendment’s passage.

In a statement, Gillen called on the board to “stop wasting taxpayer money on their frivolous attempts to save face and preserve business as usual.”

“In 2017, Republicans lost at the ballot box and then voted to ensconce their cronies, adopting a provision they rejected just months before the election,” Gillen said. “Now they are appealing their lawsuit defeat and wasting more taxpayer dollars.”

Town Board members Erin King Sweeney and Bruce Blakeman, both Republicans, and Dorothy Goosby, a Democrat, were the three nay votes.

Ronald Rosenberg, the board’s attorney, could not be reached for comment last Friday but said the decision was “an invasion of the judicial branch into the province of the co-equal branch of the Legislature.”

Theresa Kohutka, the president of the CSEA, which filed its own motion to appeal, said it is unfortunate that Gillen is “worried about taxpayer money” but willing to spend it for a special election.

Asked about the Gillen team’s argument that council members would benefit, Kohutka said a reversal of the judge’s decision would help employees of the town who have been there for decades.

“I don’t understand how they [the Council members] would benefit. All my employees would benefit,” Kohutka said. “I think she just wanted to target certain people and terminate them and that’s what she cared about.”

Santino’s attorney, Andrew Preston, said last Friday his office filed a notice to dismiss last Tuesday but that he could not comment further on pending litigation.

In court papers, Preston said Santino should be dismissed from the lawsuit because he is no longer town supervisor, is entitled to legislative immunity and that relief is neither requested nor possible.

“As such, the former supervisor should never have been named in this proceeding, and his inclusion as defendant-respondent has no legal basis and is merely a political tactic,” Preston wrote.

Roni Epstein, an attorney for the taxpayers, said on Monday afternoon she is confident that the decision will stand, describing Marber’s opinion as “well-founded,” balanced, and unlikely to be overturned.

“It’s a hard burden [on the appellant] to show that the judge’s decision was not on solid grounds,” Epstein said.

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