Law firm seeks to probe Oceanside sanitation commissioner over alleged posts

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Oceanside Sanitation District No. 7 Commissioner Ryan Hemsley has yet to meet with the law firm that was hired to investigate claims that he was behind racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic Facebook posts, despite the firm’s attempts to conduct the probe.

At the Feb. 4 meeting of the Board of Commissioners, which Hemsley and Commissioner Pat Doherty did not attend, Chairman Austin Graff said Hemsley had not yet met with anyone from the firm.

The Valley Stream-based Chandler Law Firm is conducting the investigation. Calls to the firm requesting comment were not returned as of press time.

“The interview has not been scheduled yet, despite the attorneys’ attempts,” Graff said. “At this point, he hasn’t sat for an interview, so that’s the status of that. I’ve been asked by a lot of people, both online and in-person.”

In a text message to the Herald on Monday, Graff said that a meeting had not yet taken place. He said after the Feb. 4 meeting that Hemsley said he was absent from the session because he had to be at his regular job as a sheetmetal worker in Queens. Graff held the meeting with Co-chairman John Mannone and Commissioner Joe Samoles.

Though Graff and the board initially said they would conduct the investigation in order to save money, Hemsley said he preferred to have an independent firm take on the case. He did not respond to a request for comment about why he missed the board meeting and had not yet met with the attorneys.

Hemsley has missed several  meetings since October, when old, controversial posts attached to his Facebook profile were unearthed. At the last meeting he did attend, on Dec. 17, he called for an independent investigation into the posts that he was alleged to have authored.

“I’m not going to be investigated by the people I believe are responsible for this,” he said at the time. “I look forward to a full and thorough external investigation. I will not be answering questions about anything.”

Hemsley joined the board in January 2020, after Commissioner Matthew Horowitz stepped down. Because he took over in the middle of Horowitz’s term, Hemsley had to run in the September election, in which he defeated challenger Dawn Veit, garnering more than 1,000 votes.

In mid-October, the posts were uncovered, and the board asked him to resign in response, but he has refused. The board and the Town of Hempstead have no authority to force Hemsley to resign, and the only course for removal would be for a district attorney or resident to take the case to State Supreme Court, arguing malfeasance in office. After initially denying that any of the posts were his, Hemsley then told a Herald reporter that some were his and others were not, and said some were “doctored or completely made up.”

If Hemsley were to resign, the sanitation board could appoint a new commissioner, pending approval by the Hempstead Town Board. The new commissioner would then have to run in June to finish the final year of Hemsley’s term, and then again in June 2022 for a full five-year term, if he or she wanted to stay on. If Hemsley were to stay on the board, his term would end in June 2022.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, and Assemblywoman Judy Griffin, a Democrat from Rockville Centre, are preparing to propose new legislation that would enable officials in such cases to be more readily removed from office.

The legislation would give special districts the power to recall elected officials with a petition of signatures from 10 percent of the electorate or 5,000 votes, whichever number is smaller. The board representing the district would then vote to approve the recall and set a special election. The elected officials said they plan to bring the legislation to the Senate and Assembly floors at a later date, and if approved there, Gov. Andrew Cuomo must sign it into law.

Griffin called the Facebook posts “deplorable,” and said New York needs a way to “hold officials accountable.” In his statement, Kaminsky said the new law was “crucial.”

“By putting the power back into the hands of local taxpayers to hold special district commissioners accountable, we can ensure elected officials are held to the highest standard,” he said. “Racism and bigotry will not be tolerated — especially from those in positions of power — and this legislation says that loudly and clearly.”

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