Written by Joe Scotchie Friday, 29 January 2010 00:00
On 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 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 earlier announced 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, 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 Democratic Legislators 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.
Troiano (D-Westbury) said “At a time when many people are struggling to make ends meet and unemployment is at 7 percent, taxpayers should not be asked to reach into their pockets for raises for elected officials,”
Jacobs added, “With high unemployment and our County facing a budget gap of up to $38 million, a 47 percent raise for Peter Schmitt seems unconscionable.”
In his own press release, 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 the 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.”
In response to Yatauro’s claims that the pay raise was put on the Legislature’s calendar at the last minute, with no public notice, Schmitt stated, “Minority Leader Yatauro was fully briefed on Friday, [Jan. 22] that it would appear on the Legislative calendar on Monday. 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.”
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).
Additionally, 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.
At press time Jan. 28, it was learned that Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos had placed a freeze on the aforementioned pay raises until the county attorney is able to review them.