Hempstead Town Board opposes comptroller appointment

The Hempstead town board said Supervisor Laura Gillen's appointment of Averill Smith as acting comptroller violates town code. (Photo courtesy of Michael Fricchione)

The Hempstead Town Board said in a letter on Friday that Supervisor Laura Gillen did not have the authority to appoint her administration’s finance director as acting comptroller.

“Your press release appointing Ms. Averil Smith as Acting Comptroller is not authorized by law. Only the Town Board can make that appointment,” the letter said.

The Republican board members said that “serious legal conflicts and ethical issues arise” with Smith going from serving as secretary to the supervisor, to acting as Gillen’s finance director, and now serving as acting town comptroller.

According to the letter, Smith’s appointment violates state civil service law and her current working relationship with Gillen clouds her ability to be considered an independent public officer.

Gillen’s press secretary, Michael Fricchione, said in an interview that Gillen has the right to appoint the  comptroller.

Fricchione said, “The supervisor has the right to oversee the comptroller’s office.” Gillen’s job is to maintain the operations of the town government, he said.

Fricchione said this appointment was done after the previous comptroller, Kevin Conroy, resigned for “health reasons” amid local news reports over a controversial contract extension at the town-owned Malibu Beach Park in Lido Beach.

The Town Board said that with Conroy’s resignation under the town code, the second deputy comptroller assumes the authority to act as comptroller until a replacement is made by the Town Board. According to Newsday, Gillen said that both deputy comptrollers supported an internal hire.

The board said, however, that they have no problem having Smith involved as finance director saying, “We have no problem with Ms. Smith having access to information and the cooperation of the Comptroller’s staff in preparing the Supervisor’s Budget. In addition, if you feel it is better for you that Ms. Smith makes the Budget presentation to the Board we are fine with that.”

Smith, from Elmont, is the first woman and African-American to serve as comptroller and was appointed by Gillen on Aug. 26. Gillen’s office said that she did not take a raise with the new position.

“I am humbled that Supervisor Gillen has asked me to serve in this vital role and I look forward to scrutinizing every taxpayer dollar that flows through Town Hall,” Smith said in a statement when she was appointed.

Smith is a certified public accountant with an extensive background in auditing and previously served as comptroller for North Hempstead.

According to Gillen’s office, North Hempstead earned several credit rating upgrades to AAA, the highest possible and best among Nassau County towns during Smith’s tenure.

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Tom McCarthy

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