Written by Joe Scotchie Friday, 26 February 2010 00:00
Nassau County Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt, who in January had proposed pay raises that were approved for the three top leaders of the Nassau County Legislature, including himself, earlier this month expressed his desire to have those raises rescinded. On Monday, Feb. 22, the legislature voted unanimously on that request.
The pay raises, which were initially approved at the Jan. 25 meeting, would have increased the annual stipend of the Presiding Officer from $67,500 to $99,500. The increase for John Ciotti (R.-North Valley Stream), the Deputy Presiding Officer would have increased to $84,500 from $62,500, while the stipend for Minority Leader Diane Yatauro (D.-Glen Cove), would have increased to $90,500 from $63,500. The base pay for all legislators is $39,500.
The Jan. 25 vote went along party lines, with 11 Republicans voting for the increase and eight Democrats in opposition.
When requesting the repeal of the pay raise, Schmitt cited, among other things, a sales revenue shortfall, and in general, a sluggish economy. When the pay raise was repealed, Schmitt reiterated those same factors. According to published reports, he also acknowledged that he wanted attention focused away from the entire issue.
The pay raise was a lightning rod for controversy from the moment it passed last month. Members of the Democratic Party caucus held a press conference denouncing the vote as, among other adjectives, “unacceptable” and “tone deaf,” while claiming the vote took place without any public notice. Ms. Yatauro said she would not accept the approved pay increase. At the press conference, Ms. Yatauro added that she would draft a letter to the Nassau County Comptroller, asking that the pay increase be stopped. And indeed, County Comptroller George Maragos did put a freeze on these pay raises until the county attorney was able to review them.
Responding to such criticism, Schmitt called the Democratic minority “ethical hypocrites,” while adding that he only did what former Presiding Officer Judy Jacobs “tried to do three times.” Schmitt added that a past legislature voted to increase former County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi’s salary by 60 percent and that the Democratic leadership was “fully briefed” on the planned Jan. 25 vote.
Continuing the volley of words, Jacobs said that during her tenure as Presiding Officer, “there never was any time that raises for Legislators were put to a vote on the floor of the Legislature.” She added that 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.”