The last months of Anthony Santino’s reign as supervisor of the Town of Hempstead have been so awful that they actually offer valuable lessons on how to govern — or more accurately, not govern — and how voters and other government officials ought to respond.
We thank Santino for his service.
Santino held a master class in how not to preside over town board meetings in the fall by first refusing a request from Town Councilman Bruce Blakeman, a fellow Republican, to ask the town comptroller about the budget.
Then Santino and three fellow town council members walked out as Blakeman again tried to ask questions about the budget. Note to town supervisors — let your fellow town board members have their say.
Blakeman and town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, the daughter of Congressman Peter King and a Republican, would cast the lone two votes against the town budget.
Santino’s tactics were nothing new. A few weeks earlier he led the town board in voting 4-3 on an ethics package that included an outside income cap of $125,000, which King Sweeney, an aviation attorney, said was aimed at keep her from running for re-election.
This prompted former acting Nassau Police Police Krumpter Jr. to call Santino “unethical” and a “school yard bully” in a Facebook comment.
Second note to supervisors: Don’t abuse the powers of office to try to get rid of someone you don’t like, particularly if they are well qualified to hold the post.
Following Santino’s efforts to silence him, Blakeman did the once unthinkable and endorsed Democrat Laura Gillen in her race against Santino for town supervisor.
He was joined by former Floral Park Mayor Tom Tweedy, also a Republican, who said Santino had proven himself unqualified while Gillen had demonstrated the smarts and temperament of a town supervisor.
Both men had done something rare in this hyper polarized age — they placed the interests of their constituents over the interests of their party.
Hempstead voters then did something even more unthinkable. They made Gillen the first Democrat to be elected Hempstead supervisor in more than 100 years. Note to voters: vote the person, not the letter next to their name.
One might think a defeat of such magnitude would humble Santino and show him the error of his ways.
But, apparently, when one party holds power for more than 100 years, the political gene pool gets a bit thin.
Last week, Santino and his board supporters approved sweeping changes to the town’s union labor contract and made 192 personnel moves during his final meeting as the head of the town board.
The changes to the union’s collective bargaining agreement included a provision the barred a town union employee to be terminated for budgetary reasons — only for misconduct or incompetence.
This at a time when Republicans in Congress were considering a tax plan that was expected to cost Long Island dearly.
Among the personnel matters, the board voted to transfer the town spokesman, Mike Deery, to the Office of Receiver of Taxes, where he will continue to receive his $205,000 a year salary as the “confidential assistant to the receiver of taxes.”
Asked by Newsday who last had the job of “confidential assistant to the receiver of taxes,” the town did not reply. One guesses that the cashing of his paycheck will be his most important job.
The board also voted to grant appointments, promotions, transfers and raises to 161 other employees, including the brother of Town Councilman Anthony D’Esposito and outgoing Town Clerk Narsin Ahmad, who went down in defeat with Santino.
D’Esposito recused himself from voting on his brother’s promotion and raise — something he failed to do in March when he voted in favor of a raise for his mother, a secretary in the highway department.
There you have it: nepotism, patronage, conflicts of interest and an utter disregard for taxpayers. You could not have a clearer picture of how not to govern.
And Hempstead is not alone.
In July, the administration of County Executive Edward Mangano moved more than 40 politically appointed employees into competitive union positions that protect them from firing when County Executive-elect Laura Curran takes office in January.
Curran, a Democrat, defeated former state Sen. Jack Martins in November to become the first woman county executive after Mangano decided not to run while fighting federal corruption charges.
Gillen vowed to undo the personnel measures approved by Santino and his supporters when she takes office in January.
Curran may not be able to undo the moves Mangano made in July, but has sent 160 termination letters to about 160 nonunion appointees commonly known as patronage positions.
Patronage positions are not necessarily a bad thing, allowing someone elected to head a government to bring in a team of people whose values and qualifications are consistent with those of the official.
But thanks to Anthony Santino, we have a great example of just how that can go wrong.
And as taxpayers, why we need to pay attention. And vote.