For the last two months, the Southampton Town Trustees have been paying a former assistant town attorney to serve as their office manager, as well as a legal consultant—though other town officials say they cannot hire an employee without Town Board approval.
The Trustees’ longtime legislative secretary, Julie Kranz, quit in September. Left shorthanded, the Trustees asked the Town Human Resources Department to hire Joe Lombardo as a part-time replacement for Ms. Kranz.
But rather than waiting for the town to agree on the appointment, the Trustees hired Mr. Lombardo on their own and began paying him on an hourly basis from the Trustees’ independent accounts.
In late October, the town’s management services administrator, Russell Kratoville, penned a letter to the board informing them that they could not, in fact, hire an employee without a request form signed by a member of the Town Board or a resolution of the board. The letter informs the Trustees that they only have the authority to pay Mr. Lombardo in his capacity as a legal consultant, not as an office manager.
The Trustees have thus far ignored the order.
“It’s only temporary, it’s not a union position and we’re paying out of our own accounts,” Trustee Eric Shultz said. “Julie left with two weeks’ notice, and we needed to keep things going. Joe knows the office, so we put him in charge, at our pleasure. It’s only going to be for a couple more weeks at this point.”
Mr. Shultz said the Trustees held interviews on Monday afternoon for a new legislative secretary and expect to have a new person in place by the end of the year.
Mr. Lombardo is being paid an hourly salary, pro-rated according to Ms. Kranz’s base annual salary of $56,200, according to Mr. Shultz. He is also working for the Trustees as a legal consultant on a number of lawsuits that date back to his days in the town attorney’s office, for which he bills the Trustees separately, at a rate of $125 an hour, Mr. Shultz estimated.
Mr. Shultz pointed to a 1990s settlement of a lawsuit between the Trustees and the town over a Trustees hiring that guaranteed the Trustees, rather than the Town Board, had the right to hire whom they saw fit. But Mr. Kratoville said that, formally, the town must still do the hiring.
“The Trustees are town employees, and anyone they hire is a town employee,” he said. “The town is the hiring authority, and there is a process we go through.”
Mr. Lombardo worked in the town attorney’s office from 2008 to 2012. While serving as the Trustees’ attorney, he successfully argued the Trustees’ challenge to the New York State saltwater fishing license, which was repealed in 2011 after a judge ruled that residents of Southampton and several other towns could not be required to carry state-issued licenses to fish in tidal waters.