I have followed with interest the Nassau County Executive's successful campaign to change a previously elected Tax Assessor's position to a political appointee position. The new appointee is to receive a starting salary of $155,000. This change was approved by voters in November and I seriously have to wonder why?
The reason Mr. Suozzi gave for this change was to remove an important position from the realm of politics. First, changing a position that had been previously subject to voter approval to a political appointee position is merely transferring it from one political arena to another. Importantly, an appointee is no longer subject to voter approval, so there is a critical lack of public scrutiny and control as well.
It also makes the appointee directly beholden to the County Executive who appoints, again, removing public scrutiny and a critical level of checks and balances. These types of positions are also political stepping stones for career politicians, and the quid quo pro is an essential part of this process. Importantly, it doesn't spare taxpayers nor lessen the cost of government.
The one sure way to remove politics from important county work and save money in the process would have been to convert the position to a civil service position. This is actually what Mario Cuomo had started to do while governor, where he had changed a few key appointee positions to civil service positions. But politicians don't in general like to do this. Importantly, salary and benefit packages for even upper level civil service positions are about half to two thirds what political appointees receive for the same work. A civil service position is not subject to the direct beck and call of politicians, including being tasked to work on political campaigns, and hiring and residency requirements are clearly defined and must be adhered to before someone were to get the job. These are major downsides of positions filled by both elections and appointments. I've seen the same thing happen at the federal level, where positions are created out of the blue by different politicians, and then these appointees have a strong tendency to create additional so-called "necessary" support and staff positions, that they then fill (appoint), which are not civil service, and before you know it, the system becomes top-heavy, which increases the cost of government. This additional cost comes directly out of various program operating budgets, which have to support the top end administration, which reduces the resources for the important civil service and county work that must be done. All too often, a dollar for dollar comparison will reveal that not enough critical county work gets done, which was supposed to be the purpose of the appointment in the first place!
Referring to Mr. Souzzi's clearly stated pledge while campaigning for County Executive, he was supposed to "correct" the years of mismanagement and reckless budgeting for the Republican administration. Great! But this has only been partially achieved in some instances, fallen flat in others, and gone backwards in yet others.
For example, by increasing our already too high taxes by 10 percent, and putting in place a cumbersome assessment system where property values change each and every year, and that must be contested each year, is a more than an inconvenient burden. It is a major step backwards for taxpayers. Moreover, creating yet another political appointee position, who will then supersede civil service hiring requirements and bring in his or her, "support" staff, is another big step backwards. This is the real but hidden cost of government too, not just the appointee's salary alone.
If politicians really want to remove politics from critical government work, then they must get rid of those appointee positions that are unnecessary to the function and operation of government, and convert others to civil service. Not this other malarkey.