Legalities could complicate Stellato, Villegas employment with Park District

Janelle Clausen
Tina Stellato, a candidate for Great Neck Park Commissioner, debated with incumbent Daniel Nachmanoff on Thursday night.
Tina Stellato, a candidate for Great Neck Park Commissioner, debated with incumbent Daniel Nachmanoff on Thursday night. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)

Tina Stellato’s employment at Parkwood Tennis Center and the Great Neck Park District’s contract with her husband, Rob Villegas, the Parkwood tennis director, could be threatened if Stellato is elected as park commissioner, a lawyer for the district told the Great Neck News.

The lawyer, Christopher Prior, said that Stellato could not be involved in any decisions regarding her husband’s employment.

Stellato said she would not continue her employment at Parkwood Tennis Center should she be elected. The election, in which Stellato is running against incumbent Dan Nachmanoff, is on Tuesday, Dec. 12.

Prior also said that, as a relative of an elected official, a hypothetical contract with Villegas would not be eligible for renewal and “unenforceable” due to state nepotism laws.

“The spouse of an elected Park District commissioner cannot enter into a contractual relationship with the Park District, either directly or through an entity that the spouse controls. Such a contract cannot be entered into, even if the spouse commissioner recuses himself or herself from board action on such a contract,” Prior said.

But, Prior also noted, an already binding contract can remain in effect under certain outlined conditions.

“A contract between the Park District commissioner (or an entity that the spouse controls), that is already binding upon the Park District at the time the newly elected commissioner takes office may remain in effect, but only to the extent, and for the term, by which the Park District is bound at that time,” Prior said. “Any decisions regarding such a pre-existing contract could only be made by decision of the other two commissioners.”

“Such a pre-existing contract cannot be renewed, regardless of whether the newly elected spouse-commissioner recuses himself or herself,” Prior added.

In regard to her husband’s contract and matters of recusing herself, Stellato said, “I haven’t spoken to an attorney, but I intend to do what’s lawful and in the best interest of the Park District.”

“Rob’s been employed at the Park District since 1988 and there is no nepotism there,” Stellato added. “He’s been employed for almost 30 years.”

In a letter to Blank Slate Media, civic activist Rebecca Gilliar expressed concern over the “unusual complications” the candidacy could bring both legally and for the Park District.

“For me, the concern is the welfare of the park district and the rest of us,” Gilliar wrote. “Were this candidate to be elected, until her husband’s contract terminates, she would have to recuse herself from all matters relating to her husband. This would mean that our park district would too often be in the hands of two, not three, commissioners.”

Gilliar added that there is public concern that should the Park District “be forced to lose its tennis director,” that it could destabilize the tennis program.

When asked if having to recuse herself from the board on these matters could leave certain Park District matters in the hands of two commissioners, Frank Cilluffo and Robert Lincoln, and make it more difficult for the board to function, Stellato said she did not view it as an issue.

“I don’t believe so. It wouldn’t be a problem,” Stellato said. “They’ve both been on the board and they’re upstanding commissioners.”

According to a contract between the Board of Commissioners and Villegas obtained by the Great Neck News, Villegas is technically an “independent contractor and consultant” for the Park District. The base annual consulting fee, set in 2016, is $76,000 and increases by 1.5 percent every year, pending an annual renewal of the contract.

Villegas has more than 26 responsibilities as the tennis director, according to the contract, including supervision of all tennis facilities, staff and programs, scheduling tennis programming, working with Park District staff, and enforcing Park District policies.

As director, according to the contract, Villegas must also work with the superintendent and finance director to prepare tennis-related budgets, handle residents’ concerns, attend meetings as requested, and make various recommendations regarding tennis in the Park District.

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