Calls For Unity Amidst Discord

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COVID-19 precautions were taken during the Jan. 6 town board meeting.
(Screen capture)

At the end of what had been a frequently fractious meeting, Councilwoman Mariann Dalimonte tried to soothe any bruised feelings by maintaining that the Town of North Hempstead Town Board could function harmoniously.
“I do think that we will make a good team. We just got through some bumps,” she affirmed.
Turning to new Supervisor Jen DeSena, she stated, “Jen, I think you will unite us, and I will unite us. And we all will be working together as a team, because together, everyone achieves more.”
Councilman Robert Troiano, putting the discord in the best light, asserted, “Like every family, there are arguments sometimes.”
And Dalimonte drew laughs by likening it to the proverbial family squabbles at Thanksgiving dinner.
There were some growing pains at the first board meeting of the year, held in person at Town Hall on Jan. 6. Procedural missteps and confusion were evident at times.
Besides Manhasset’s DeSena (a registered Democrat who ran on the Republican and Conservative lines to win her seat) and Troiano (D–Westbury), it was also the first board meeting for Dennis Walsh (R–Mineola) and David Adhami (R–Great Neck). Dalimonte (D–Port Washington), Veronica Lurvey (D–Great Neck) and Peter Zuckerman (D–East Hills) were not up for election this past cycle.
What’s In A Space?
On Jan. 3, her first day at work, DeSena sent a letter to the four Democratic councilmembers objecting to their rearranging the offices, “effectively relocating and secluding 4 of the 6 councilmembers in their own private chambers. This rearrangement has broken tradition, as the town board has shared a singular office space for over 20 years.”
Going back to the previous arrangement, she continued, offered “the greatest chance for bipartisan cooperation amongst our members as we embark on doing the work of the people of North Hempstead in an open, honest, and transparent way.”
This and other public signs of division were on the minds of speakers during the public comment portion.
Tom McDonough, president of the CSEA public service union Local 7555, told the board members that he intended to be blunt.
“I’ve been very disappointed this week because I thought I worked for and with professionals, only to find out I was very mistaken,” he said. “I witnessed the most partisan politics that I’ve ever seen. The voters elected you to perform your job and you failed at it this week by not working with the new administration and by creating private areas just for Democratic board members and their enlarged staff. That’s unacceptable. This is as arrogant as you can get.”
McDonough claimed the board’s actions “created an atmosphere of unrest amongst the employees of the entire town hall complex as well as a hostile work environment.”
Criticism was also voiced by Williston Park Mayor Paul Ehrbar, Isma Chaudry of the Islamic Center of Long Island, former trustee Dina De Giorgio, former Mineola Mayor and state Senator Jack Martins and Manhasset resident Andrew Schwenk. Mike Barry of Manhasset, the town’s former spokesman, also weighed in.
Disagreements
The very first resolution, to hire former Nassau County Assistant Attorney John Chiara as town attorney to replace Leonard Kapsalis, generated heated discussion.
DeSena wondered if the nominee had been vetted. Lurvey informed her that the town’s Ethics Committee would meet with the officials after they’ve been appointed.
Walsh complained, “I don’t know who this guy is. I don’t know who else was interviewed. I don’t know anything and I should have been included in on this conversation, but I wasn’t,” pointedly adding that “things were not done this way in Mineola,” where he was a trustee for nine years.
He proposed a motion to table the appointment until he, Adhami and DeSena had a chance to review and learn more about Chiara. Adhami also wanted to table the appointment, stating that as an attorney he had questions about possible conflicts of interest.
Troiano pushed back. saying none of the supervisor’s proposed staff had been vetted, and Adhami was unfairly singling out Chiara.
In the end, the motion to table the appointment failed along party lines and DeSena then joined the Democrats in approving Chiara.
The supervisor said she would vote yes “because he has a wonderful résumé and a history of service. I only object to the lack of participation by the whole town board on his selection.”
The personnel and budget transfer resolutions created the most contentious moments of the night. DeSena had already gone public with her complaint that the majority had retained a number of predecessor Judi Bosworth’s staff by creating patronage positions for them.
McDonough also pointed this out, saying that a lot of money was being spent on these positions while union slots went unfilled. He added that staffers hired by elected officials should know that once their patron was voted out, their tenure would end as well.
“Nobody has ever addressed the patronage problem. I think that needs to be done,” McDonough said.
According to DeSena and her spokesperson, Brian Devine, five people were moved from the supervisor’s staff to other departments. The supervisor chiefly objected to former Chief of Staff Jeanine Dillon being hired to a new position, chief research assistant to the town board, at a salary slightly below the $160,000 she earned under Bosworth.
According to the new executive, the salary cannot be justified when the town board meets only once or twice a month and has no regular presence in town hall.
“There is no chain of supervision for employees like that to be working for the town board. This move really changes the way this local government functions,” DeSena said.
Troiano led the debate against DeSena’s assertion that her budget had been cut, saying more than once that her immediate staff budget of $811,000 and total department budget of $2.2 million were the same as what was voted on back in October. He also discounted her complaint that the communications and finance departments were no longer under her purview.
Troiano found it ironic that he and his Democratic colleague voted to pass the personnel and budget transfer resolutions that included DeSena’s staffers, while DeSena, saying that her people could wait two weeks for their first paychecks, voted against it.
Adding some balm to the proceedings as the meeting adjourned, Dalimonte, Troiano, Lurvey and Zuckerman welcomed the new members to the board, as well as new Clerk Ragini Srivastava and the new staff members.

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