Written by Joe Scotchie and Denise Nash Friday, 29 January 2010 00:00
On Monday, Jan. 25, at the first meeting of the Nassau County Legislature, that body voted to give pay raises to its three legislative leaders: Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt, Deputy Presiding Officer John Ciotti and Minority Leader Diane Yatauro. The pay raise vote went along party lines, with 11 Republicans voting for the raise, and eight Democrats in opposition.
The pay raise is in fact a stipend increase. Base pay for all legislators is $39,500. That salary is set by the County Charter and must be amended for all legislators to get raises. The Presiding Officer’s current stipend is $28,000. The legislation increases that to $60,000, making the total salary $99,500 (the stipend added to the $39,500 base salary). As well, the Deputy Presiding Officer’s salary increased from $62,500 to $84,000, by the stipend being increased to $45,000. And, with the stipend for the Minority Leader increased to $51,000, it makes that total salary go from $63,500 to $90,500.
The next day, members of the Democratic Party caucus held a press conference, criticizing, in strong language, the pay increases.
At the press conference, adjectives such as “dumbstruck,” “deplorable,” “unacceptable,” “insensitive,” “sneaky,” “tone deaf” and “outrageous” were used to attack the pay raises, which are estimated to average 42 percent.
Yatauro, who said that she would not accept any pay increase, said that she would draft a letter to the Nassau County Comptroller, asking that the pay increase be stopped. Yatauro added that she would call on County Executive Ed Mangano to direct the County Attorney to find a legal way to repeal the pay increase vote.
Immediately following the press conference, County Executive Mangano issued his own reply.
“At the request of Minority Leader Yatauro, I have referred the question of the legality of the raises to the County Attorney’s office for review,” the release said. “The Nassau County Legislature is a separate branch of government and as such abides by its own rules of procedure. My administration will continue to lead by example through reducing the cost of government, and it is our hope that our colleagues follow suit.
In addition to Yatauro, those present at the press conference were Judy Jacobs, Wayne Wink, Dave Denenberg, Kevan Abrahams, Judith Bosworth and Robert Troiano. They were joined by representatives of the Tea Party Patriot and the Tax Revolt Association, who also opposed the increase.
The lawmakers all reiterated that at every legislative meeting, they plan to introduce a resolution calling for the repeal of the pay raise. In light of the increase, the lawmakers also took notice of the county’s ongoing economic problems, including high unemployment and house foreclosures.
In his own press release, Presiding Officer Schmitt responded to the entire day’s events.
“The Democratic Minority are ethical hypocrites,” Schmitt said. “All I did was what former Presiding Officer Judy Jacobs tried to do three times. I didn’t see Democratic Legislators holding press conferences against her three attempts she made to raise Legislative pay. Nor did I see Democratic indignation when they voted to increase former County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi’s salary by 60 percent.
“Minority Leader Yatauro was fully briefed on Friday that it would appear on the Legislative calendar on Monday,” Schmitt continued. “I put it forth in the full light of day, allowing discussion and everyone had the right to vote. There was no back room dealing or attempt to deceive the public like in the past and I stand by my decision.”
In response to Schmitt, Jacobs said, “By Peter Schmitt’s way of thinking, people speaking about something translates into actually doing something. This is totally ridiculous,” she said. “During my eight years as presiding officer, there never was any time that raises for Legislators were put to a vote on the floor of the Legislature. The proposal for raises for countywide elected officials, the County Executive, the County Comptroller, the District Attorney and the County Clerk were voted in the affirmative by a majority of the Legislature following a report of recommendations made by a Blue Ribbon Panel of Democrats and Republicans. It is also imperative to remember that the economic times of today are totally different than they were three years ago. This action by Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt shows a complete insensitivity to the plight of the taxpayers of this county.”
Jacobs urges all Nassau residents to contact the County Executive at 571-3131 and say “Stop the Raises.”
“I don’t know one person who goes into public service to make money…except Peter Schmitt,” said Legislator Jacobs. “If this is what the Republicans do after just three weeks in charge, what can we expect three months from now? They obviously have their eyes on their own wallets, rather than the taxpayers. With high unemployment and our County facing a budget gap of up to $38 million, a 47 percent raise for Peter Schmitt seems unconscionable.”
According to Jacobs, this is the second time that Schmitt has raised salaries. Previously he raised the salaries of several key staff members, including his counsel, his finance director and his press secretary a week after the 2009 election.
Jacobs also said that this action should be considered void based on the County Charter, which sets the salaries.
“The entire action should be considered null and void since the Charter clearly states in Section 105 that seven days notice is required. Mr. Schmitt filed this action with the Clerk of the Legislature at approximately 9:30 a.m. on Monday the 25th of January and it was called on the floor for a vote at approximately 10:30 a.m. providing no advance notice as required for the general public.”
At press time for this newspaper on Thursday, Jan. 28, it was learned that Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos has put a freeze on these pay raises until the county attorney is able to review them.