If you consider the job of Republican Hempstead Town Board members to be to serve the best interests of the town’s more than 750,000 residents, their recent decision to table five money-saving measures and postpone a vote on a proposed 2020 budget that would cut taxes 1.7 percent makes little sense.
On the other hand, if you view Hempstead’s government as a private organization whose first priority is to protect patronage jobs of Hempstead Republicans and their families, then the two recent votes make perfect sense.
The problem with the five money-saving measures and the budget that calls for a spending cut both start with the person who proposed them – Town Supervisor Laura Gillen.
In 2017, Gillen became the first Democrat elected Hempstead town supervisor in more than 100 years. This, as they say, is bad for business. At least as practiced by Town of Hempstead Republicans.
Before Gillen could take office, outgoing Town Supervisor Anthony Santino and the Town Board handed out $4 million in raises to 197 employees and moved his top political allies to permanent positions in the Gillen administration.
Gillen is now running for re-election against Town Receiver of Taxes Donald X. Clavin Jr. Cutting taxes and introducing money-saving measures just might help Gillen’s election chances.
For Town of Hempstead Republicans, this is apparently a bad thing.
Making matters worse for Hempstead Inc. is that Gillen’s tentative 2020 budget reduces overtime projections by 10 percent and eliminates 55 full-time positions through anticipated retirements.
That’s 55 jobs that the Republicans could not hand out if they regained control of the town supervisor position.
The Town Board also postponed a vote to draw on $6.9 million from town reserves and direct $5.2 million to pay for salaries and wages in 18 departments that Gillen staffers said went over their budgets in 2018. The Town Board on Tuesday submitted its own budget.
Gillen has since proposed a ban on town department heads leading political committees and said she intended to submit legislation next month to ban town commissioners from serving as heads of local political clubs or committees.
About half of the town’s department chiefs, including nearly every commissioner and town attorney, are leaders of local Republican clubs, she said.
What are the odds that these department heads are the most qualified people to hold their jobs? How willing would you be to trust these departments to hold down overtime costs? Especially when employees are members of some of the same political clubs and committees as their bosses.
The five money-saving measures that the Republican town council members tabled provided a further demonstration of the cost to taxpayers of the GOP’s focus.
One of the five was a contract to digitize the clerk’s office, create greater transparency and get rid of the 72 typewriters needed to run the office.
Consider that last item for a moment. Like some land that time forgot, the Town of Hempstead in 2019 uses 72 typewriters to run the clerk’s office. Typewriters. In 2019.
Where else in North America are there 72 typewriters being used to run an office?
And yes, replacing typewriters with computers would save time and money. But what about those jobs? Especially when they are held by people who knock on doors, hand out flyers, man phone banks and make campaign contributions to the Hempstead Republican Party.
Then there was the Siemens energy performance contract.
The contract had gone through a bipartisan review process involving thousands of hours of work over the last year that cost the town tens of thousands of dollars and Siemens several hundred thousand dollars.
It was projected to provide the town $11.381 million in guaranteed electric savings that would have paid for five energy-related projects.
This is known as a no-brainer. But what’s $11.381 million in electric savings and five energy-related projects when there is an election to be won.
So what if other vendors watching this process decide not to invest time and money to bid on projects in the town when they can get their legs cut out from under them for political reasons?
This not how elected officials whose priority is to serve the public or a political party act.
Until recently at least, Republicans and Democrats have been separated by a philosophy centered around the role that government should play in people’s everyday lives.
The differences between the two parties have generally been muted at the local government level. There is little disagreement about the need to collect garbage, hire police or hire school teachers.
Sure, politics gets mixed in, particularly when local officials go looking for higher office. But this is different.
Thanks to free rein for more than 100 years, the Republican Party in the Town of Hempstead turned into a suburban version of the old, big city political machines.
That is a system taxpayers in the Town of Hempstead can longer afford. Nor be forced to endure.