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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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County Game Changer

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano did not have the authority to terminate the county Assessment Review Commission’s (ARC) nine commissioners “in the absence of cause, prior to the expiration of their fixed statutory terms,” according to a unanimous decision rendered last week by the state’s highest court.

Yet only three of the nine now-former ARC commissioners remained as petitioners in the lawsuit against County Executive Mangano by the time the Court of Appeals ruled in the petitioners’ favor on the issue of wrongful termination, the decision indicates. The Court of Appeals agreed with Nassau County, however, when saying the petitioners had to pay their own legal bills, even though the petitioners wanted the county’s taxpayers to pay their attorneys’ fees, too. The ARC, an independent agency, is responsible for reviewing all applications for correction of assessment filed in Nassau County.

The back story: the Nassau Democrats’ Favor Store was closing in late 2009 after an eight-year run in which the Democrats controlled county government’s executive and legislative branches. The Republicans were to assume both the county executive’s office and a majority in the county Legislature on New Year’s Day 2010 so Mineola’s Democrats had to move quickly.

The lame duck county Legislature approved on Dec. 21, 2009 a number of then-County Executive Tom Suozzi’s choices for various boards and commissions, including the three ARC commissioners who remained as petitioners in the aforementioned lawsuit against the current county executive. Dermot Kelly’s appointment to a $130,000-a-year full-time vacant position at the ARC, due to expire on June 29, 2013, was confirmed on that day (Dec. 21), according to county records. Meanwhile, Dolores Sedacca was given at that same county Legislative meeting a $75,000-a-year ARC commissioner’s seat with an unexpired term ending on June 29, 2012 while Izzy Wasser secured a $20,000 per annum ARC commissioner’s post which was to have continued until June 29, 2013, county records state.

Needless to say, Kelly, Sedacca and Wasser were upset when County Executive Mangano acted to end their ARC careers in January 2010.

The Court of Appeals, in its decision, said the county Legislature intended when creating the ARC to keep the ARC removed from the vagaries of county election cycles. This agency’s full commissioner terms were set at five years, the judges noted, while no more than six of the ARC’s nine commissioners were to be from the same political party at any one time.

The next steps in this case will be decided by a state Supreme Court Justice in Nassau County. Could the three former ARC commissioners be awarded back pay, or returned to the ARC? Does anyone know, or care, how much it has cost the county’s taxpayers to defend Nassau’s government against a lawsuit filed by the political appointees of elected officials who were days away from either leaving office or losing power?

This much appears certain. The Court of Appeals’ decision will live on long after these questions have been answered. Future Nassau County executives will no doubt feel emboldened to pack county boards and commissions with their appointees, even as the clock runs out on their time in office, so long as the county Legislature signs on.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net