Animal shelter audit causes friction
To employ the nautical metaphor, “That ship has sailed.”
But there was still someone on the shore, taking potshots.
The words were from Town of Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen, The potshots were from trustee and Republican Majority Leader Erin King Sweeney, criticizing the supervisor over her decision to ask the county comptroller’s office to audit the town’s animal shelter.
As is usual in Hempstead, the numerous animal advocates had their say at the Feb. 20 board meeting. They had long lambasted operations at the shelter, and this night was no different.
Diane Madden of East Meadow, who has a lawsuit pending against the town over the shelter (she won another suit earlier this decade), talked about the revelation of unpaid veterinarian bills at the animal facility, then looked at King Sweeney and said, her voice rising, “You have an issue with an audit? You put out a public statement upset about an audit?”
The councilwoman responded, “The reason why I had a disagreement over the handling of the audit is that what was asked of the county comptroller was to conduct a full audit, including a performance audit, and that is not permitted.”
She was referring to a court decision last year enjoining the comptroller’s office from doing an operational audit of the shelter—only an examination of its budget and finances was permitted.
King Sweeney added, “That was my issue. The fact that the town board was not involved at all with this decision.”
Rejoined Gillen, “The councilwoman and I disagree on that. We disagree on the interpretation of the [court decision].”
The supervisor also took issue with King Sweeney’s assertion that the councilmembers were not consulted.
“I told [trustees] I was going to do the audit. That ship has sailed. So, let’s move on,” Gillen said.
King Sweeney wasn’t done.
“Just for clarification purposes, it was told to town board members the day before,” the councilwoman said of the audit. “We were not fully briefed on it at all. That is a fact. And so I have a problem bringing on the county comptroller when our own comptroller [pointing to Kevin Conroy] had not been involved at all.”
She asked Conroy if he had been asked to look at the numbers and conduct an audit. Conroy admitted he had not.
“I felt it was premature,” King Sweeney told Anton Media Group about the audit, believing that the supervisor was responding to a serious allegation of animal abuse at the shelter that turned out to have no merit.
“We should do these investigations methodically and have thoughtful conversations with our own comptroller and the town board before such a p.r. stunt,” she said of the press conference Gillen held with Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman at the shelter. “I don’t support baseless attack [on our employees]. If there is any abuse, any misuse of funds, get rid of it, clean it up.”
Regarding the late medical bills, she said her office is looking into it to understand what they’re about.
“It could be a line item misplaced, we all get screwed up in billing. Let’s not assume the worst,” she said. “I just don’t know. It’s the first time I’m hearing about it.”
King Sweeney admitted that she did not like “the optics” of the press conference.
“[Schnirman’s] busy enough with what’s going on in the county. He doesn’t need to do this audit.”
Gillen Bashes D’Esposito
In another development Councilman Anthony D’Esposito (R-Island Park) was hired by the Nassau County Board of Elections, beginning his job as an administrative assistant on Feb. 26. Reportedly, he will be making $100,000 and focus on elections cybersecurity as well as security at polling places.
In a statement, D’Esposito said, “To be clear, there is no conflict of interest between my position as a councilman and my new unrelated role in ensuring the security of voting system in the county. If there is ever an issue concerning the Board of Elections which comes before me as a councilman, I will recuse myself from the vote. Residents whom I represent on the town board can expect the same level of dedication and service from me that I have always brought to the job. I look forward to continuing to represent the public and also keeping our voting system safe and secure.”
Gillen, the first Democratic supervisor in the town in at least 100 years, criticized the councilman’s hire.
“Hempstead residents are sick and tired of the rampant and shameful abuse of their taxpayer dollars,” she said in a statement. “It is wholly unethical and a clear conflict of interest for Councilman D’Esposito to continue serving in his elected capacity while he accepts a plum, six-figure patronage job from his political party. America’s largest township….needs an elected official who is above reproach, not someone indebted to party bosses. The councilman should either refuse the political appointment or resign his position on the town board. To work simultaneously in both capacities is outrageous and displays nothing but contempt for the taxpayers we swore an oath to serve.”
Asked about Gillen’s criticism, King Sweeney said in a statement, “I think it would be helpful to tone down the rhetoric and figure out constructive ways to help the residents of the Town of Hempstead.”