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11/10/12 8:01am
11/10/2012 8:01 AM
Town Board, Linda Hulse, Riverhead, Jodi Giglio, Sean Walter

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Sean Walter and Jodi Giglio during Wednesday’s fighting in Town Hall.

Former Riverhead Town Board coordinator Linda Hulse had filed a complaint against Councilman George Gabrielsen on the same day Mr. Gabrielsen and two other councilmembers introduced a resolution to fire her, according to a Town Hall source familiar with the situation that exploded at a Town Board meeting Wednesday.

But Mr. Gabrielsen said Friday he has received no notice of any complaint being made against him. The source said the complaint was made to the town’s personnel officers, Meg Ferris and Ray Coyne, but did not say what the specifics of the complaint were.

“Nothing has been brought to me,” Mr. Gabrielsen reiterated.

No proof of a complaint was furnished for a News-Review reporter.

Ms. Hulse, who had been hired as Town Board coordinator in 2011, was fired by a three-member board majority on Wednesday by a resolution that had not been on the Town Board’s printed agenda.

Board members spent more than an hour arguing over the resolution, which Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman John Dunleavy opposed, saying they knew nothing about until it was presented at Wednesday’s meeting.

Mr. Dunleavy said after Wednesday’s meeting that he was aware of a complaint being made against one of the three board members who brought the resolution to fire Ms. Hulse, but he wouldn’t say which one or what the complaint was about.

Ms. Hulse declined comment when reached Friday.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Supervisor Sean 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.”

The supervisor declined to give any more specifics on Friday.

Mr. Walter and Mr. Dunleavy had accused Mr. Gabrielsen and councilmembers Jim Wooten and Jodi Giglio of being “cowards” for not talking to Ms. Hulse being firing her, as the supervisor claimed is done whenever the town fires someone.

The supervisor also claimed that it’s legally risky to fire someone without first checking with labor attorneys.

Ms. Giglio meanwhile says that Ms. Hulse was hired as an “at will” employee, meaning she’s not under contract and isn’t a union employee, and can be fired at the pleasure of the board by a majority of the board with a three-vote majority.

She denied that the firing had anything to do with Ms. Hulse being a “whistleblower,” as the supervisor had said, and said on Friday that she still has no knowledge of any complaint being made by Ms. Hulse.

“There is no one incident that led to this,” Mr. Gabrielsen said Friday. “This goes back six to eight months. She has not been working with the board.”

Ms. Giglio said at Wednesday’s meeting that the three board members looking to let Ms. Hulse had trust issues with her.

“Three of us don’t have that trust,” she said.

Mr. Walter, who on Wednesday questioned if the vote was legal due to procedure issues, said on Friday that it was indeed a legal vote.

Asked about the alleged complaint, the supervisor said he doubted a complaint filed with the town’s personnel officers against an elected official would carry much weight.

The supervisor said Ms. Hulse, who is president of the Riverhead Rotary Club and has been involved in numerous charitable endeavors, is a respected  member of the community and he called the move to fire her without warning “the most insensitive thing I’ve ever seen.”

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11/08/12 10:24pm
11/08/2012 10:24 PM

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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11/07/12 10:00am
11/07/2012 10:00 AM

The Riverhead Town Board will hold public hearings on the 2013 town budget at its 2 p.m. meeting in Town Hall.

News-Review reporter Tim Gannon will be blogging live once the meeting starts.

There will also be hearings on McGann-Mercy High School’s proposal to turn an old pond into a softball field, and on a town proposal to spend up to $900,000 to create a new open space preserve along Horton Avenue.

Click below to follow along, and scroll below the live blog box to see at meeting agenda.

Riverhead Town Board 11-07-2012