North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena and Democratic members of the Town Board are clashing over whom the town commissioners should report to.
At a meeting last Thursday, DeSena, who was elected as a Republican in November, said that much of the existing staff, specifically commissioners, was being told not to report to her office as part of a loyalty test.
Democrats responded that DeSena was trying to block commissioners from communicating with Town Board members.
It was the second public meeting of DeSena’s administration, and tension remained high. Democrats hold a 4-3 majority on the board.
“These commissioners are still being ordered to go to meetings and report to this new staff that only reports to the Town Board. These commissioners are in a very bad situation,” DeSena said. “There’s a loyalty test here and that is what I need to get past for the sake of our employees because they need to know that if they report to the supervisor, their jobs are not on the line.”
Brian Devine, director of communications for the supervisor’s office, said comments that the office has told commissioners whom to report to were untrue.
Devine said it “further serves to try and drive a wedge between the Supervisor’s administration and the heads of the Departments who seemingly know they should be reporting to the Supervisor (as it has always been done in the past) but are hesitating to do so as they have been made to feel their actions are a ‘loyalty check.’”
Gordon Tepper, the town spokesman, said commissioners report to the Town Board.
Devine, says according to New York Consolidated Laws, Town Law Section 52, the supervisor is chief executive officer of the town, administrative officer of the town and required to keep the town board informed of town affairs.
“The supervisor shall be the chief executive officer of a suburban town and head of the administrative branch of town government,” the law reads. “He shall be responsible for the proper administration of town affairs, law enforcement and the maintenance of peace and order in the town.”
In a statement to Blank Slate Media, Councilwoman Veronica Lurvey said the Town Board needs access on behalf of constituents.
“Town Board Members need to have a direct line to commissioners – period,” Lurvey said. “We are all accountable to the residents in our districts, and we have a right to ensure that their needs are being met. Supervisor DeSena’s attempt to block us from communicating directly with department heads would be unprecedented and an abuse of power. The Supervisor does not have unilateral authority to issue decrees that circumvent the rest of her colleagues on the Town Board. Whether it be requests regarding park benches, trees, streetlights, parking, or paving, council members unequivocally have oversight.”
Tom McDonough, the safety coordinator for North Hempstead’s Civil Service Employees Association Unit 7555, said during the public portion of the meeting he had evaluated the budget codes and identified funds to cover transfers during a personnel resolution passed at the last meeting that moved five employees out of the supervisor’s office.
McDonough said he found $336,621.83 from salaries in other departments that have been eliminated to cover the budget amendments. Specifically, McDonough said one position where the funds came from was a union position in the tax receiver’s office.
“We used to have a full-time benefits coordinator in the H.R. department, now we have a part-time one,” McDonough said. “Do our employees not deserve a full-time benefits person? That answers questions about our health benefits, workman’s compensation or any other benefits we have.”
No one on the Town Board responded to McDonough’s statements.
A few residents spoke about the optics of the Town Board and the tone set with the new administration.
Rebecca Hughes Parker, of Port Washington, said she has a lot of optimism about the new board but referred to DeSena’s speech when she was sworn in and promised to keep politics out of Town Hall. Parker referred to comments DeSena has made about the budget, the resources she said she has available to her as well as comments made by her office.
“It seems like we are inserting politics into the conversation here, not removing it as we were promised,” Parker said.
DeSena responded with much of what she has consistently said since taking office. She referred to the number of employees that report to her in the supervisor’s office being shrunk compared with former Supervisor Judi Bosworth’s administration.
“That has changed and it changed because of the election,” she said.
Toward the latter half of the three-hour meeting, the board tabled a resolution to appoint Harry Weed, the acting highway superintendent since 2021, to the job on a permanent basis so it can be determined whether he lives in the town, as required.
DeSena said she would have preferred to discuss the matter before the public meeting, but said the board does not meet prior to creating the agenda.
After the 48th and final resolution on the evening’s agenda was passed, Charles McQuair, special counsel to the supervisor’s office, approached the board and called for unity.
McQuair said that party caucuses are unproductive. He said that the resolution on Weed’s appointment should have been discussed in executive session before Thursday night but that did not happen due to partisan politics.
“I’m here to work with the supervisor and all of you in terms of moving the ball forward, and I don’t see how we can do that in the future without having a unified group,” McQuair said.
In response, Councilman Robert Troiano, a Democrat, asked what McQuair’s role and responsibilities are and how they differed from John Chiara, the town attorney.
The two discussed the Open Meetings Law, which Chiara brought up, and how caucusing may or may not violate that.
“The caucus meets with a quorum. You may have issues here with regard to the Open Meetings Law,” McQuiar said.
“The danger here is that people watching and listening may be of the opinion that we are violating the Open Meetings Law and I can’t allow you to put a question about the integrity of the process into people’s minds,” Troiano responded.
Party caucuses are exempt from the Open Meetings Law.
The next Town Board meeting will take place Thursday, Feb. 17.
A previous version of this story was published. It has since been updated.