More than 70 percent of the Town of Hempstead’s legal fees to outside firms in the last two years have been paid to a firm that employs top town and county Republicans, according to a chart posted on the town website.
In total, the town paid $3.15 million in legal fees to outside firms in 2016 and 2017.
About $2.26 million went to Berkman, Henoch, Peterson, Paddy & Fenchel PC – the firm that employs Nassau Republican Chairman Joseph Mondello as counsel.
Gregory Peterson, former Republican Hempstead supervisor and presiding supervisor in the late 80s and mid-90s, is also a partner at the firm, which raked in more in legal fees than the other firms paid by the town combined.
Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen said the decision to post the information is an effort to break down the “walls of secrecy and silence that have shrouded Town Hall for far too long.”
“A fair and open process discourages favoritism, and encourages additional vendors to compete for our business,” Gillen said in a statement. “Taxpayers deserve the best services at the most cost-effective price.”
The decision follows a vote by four of the council members to table Gillen’s plan to seek competitive bids for professional services costing more than $20,000, according to Newsday.
“Residents are tired of business as usual and of a patronage system of government that has been, at best, careless with taxpayer dollars,” Gillen said in a statement.
It also comes on the heels of Gillen’s lawsuit against the Town Board, former Supervisor Anthony Santino and the local union.
Gillen is suing in an effort to nullify a contract passed by the board at Santino’s final meeting in charge that limits the board’s ability to lay off employees even in times of financial crisis.
During last Tuesday’s Town Board meeting, all but Gillen and Councilman Bruce Blakeman, who was absent due to the recent death of his father, voted in favor of Bee, Ready, Fishbein, Hatter & Donovan LLP to represent Santino in the case.
Gillen, who Newsday reported hired an outside attorney to file the suit but plans to apply for the town to cover her legal costs, said she voted against the firm because it has a conflict.
According to the town website’s chart, the firm has received almost $70,000 from the town in legal fees in the last two years.
“I think sunlight is the best of disinfectant and I’m looking forward to opening up more of Town Hall to the taxpayers,” Gillen said.
In a statement, Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney has said that Gillen’s suit has created the need for legal representation that will come at a “substantial cost to taxpayers.”
In her own crusade to bring transparency to the town, Sweeney said on Twitter that the town comptroller will send monthly updates on the cost of the lawsuit and she will post the costs to her social media accounts for residents to view.