Town Board coordinator firing questioned

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Former Riverhead Town Board coordinator Linda Hulse, who was fired Wednesday.

Riverhead Town Board members argued for almost an hour Tuesday over a resolution to immediately fire the Town Board coordinator, Linda Hulse, with Supervisor Sean Walter publicly calling three fellow Republicans “cowards” and suggesting that Ms. Hulse was being fired for being a whistleblower.

The resolution, which was eventually approved by a 3-2 vote, was brought “off the floor,” meaning it wasn’t on the board’s printed agenda, and it had the support of council members Jodi Giglio, George Gabrielsen and Jim Wooten.

Supervisor Walter and Councilman John Dunleavy both voted against it, and both said they had no idea the resolution was being voted on Tuesday.

Mr. Walter called it “the most insensitive thing I’ve ever seen” to terminate an employee without discussing it with the board in executive session.

(See our live blog coverage from the meeting.)

While Ms. Giglio attempted to have the issue voted on without being discussed, the board ultimately ended up discussing it in public for close to an hour, with Mr. Walter saying he wanted the vote tabled to another meeting, and that he wanted to discuss the issue in executive session, which is closed to the public.

Ms. Giglio, Mr. Gabrielsen and Mr. Wooten refused, saying they wanted it voted on immediately.

Mr. Walter and Ms. Giglio have been at odds before on issues before the Town Board. Ms. Giglio has at least twice accused the supervisor of trying to intimidate her, and one time even filed a police report for harassment.

“She tried to have me arrested,” Mr. Walter said Tuesday of that incident. The board, despite being all Republican, has had public disagreements over many issues in the past three years.

Ms. Hulse was appointed to the post in 2011 after the previous town board coordinator, Donna Zlatniski, resigned. Ms. Zlatniski later filed a lawsuit claiming she was “coerced” into doing campaign work for Mr. Wooten, and that she was fired to give the job to Ms. Hulse, who is the wife of Republican town assessor Paul Leszczynski, and who also was the Republican candidate for town clerk in 2009, when Democrat Diane Wilhelm defeated her in that year’s election.

Ms. Hulse currently is also the president of the Riverhead Rotary Club.

Mr. Walter said publicly of Ms. Hulse, “I personally happen to believe she’s a whistle blower and has raised a complaint against a board member and you’re looking to get rid of a whistleblower. This is retaliation for her actions.”

He didn’t say what the complaint was.

Ms. Giglio said the firing had nothing to do with Ms. Hulse being a whistleblower, something she, Mr. Gabrielsen and Mr. Wooten said they did not know about.

Mr. Gabrielsen said their concerns with Ms. Hulse are not due to any one issue.

“It started six to eight months ago, some of the board members lost that confidential trust [in her],” he said.

“We have had this employee for a year, it’s not working out and the majority of the board would like to move in a different direction,” Ms. Giglio said.

Mr. Walter said every other employee the town has terminated was spoken to beforehand.

“This is an evil act right here,” he said. “How many other employees are you planning to fire this way?”

“I come from a business community and anytime we had to let someone go, we called them in to talk with them,” Mr. Dunleavy said. “This is a coward’s position to let them go without talking to them.”

“The three of you are absolute cowards,” Mr. Walter said. “A real man sits down and talks to the employee.”

Ms. Giglio said Ms. Hulse was hired “at will,” meaning she is not a member of an employees union and not a department head under contract. Because of this, Ms. Giglio said, the board majority can fire her at any time.

Mr. Gabrielsen said the Town Council didn’t interfere in the selection of employees in the supervisor’s office, and the supervisor shouldn’t interfere with the selection of a Town Board coordinator.

At one point in the meeting, after it was clear the board majority planned to fire Ms. Hulse and refused to table the resolution or discuss it in executive session, Mr. Walter insisted on discussing the resolution publicly, something the three board members who backed the firing opposed.

“Can we filibuster?” Mr. Walter asked.

Town Attorney Bob Kozakiewicz also suggested that the board discuss the resolution in executive session before voting on it in order to protect the town in litigation.

Mr. Dunleavy said that if he knew the reasons for the firing, he might support it.

“But I don’t know the reasons,” he said.

Ms. Hulse could not be reached for comment and had left before the meeting ended, which was after regular hours at Town Hall.

Mr. Walter said he refused to call a vote on the resolution and is asking Mr. Kozakiewicz to investigate whether the vote is legal without his having called the vote.

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