The administration of Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, who is not expected to seek re-election as he fights federal corruption charges, has moved more than 40 politically appointed employees into competitive union positions that will protect them from being fired when a new county executive takes office in January.
While past county executives have shuffled a handful of appointees into vacant competitive jobs before they left office, this is the first time that an administration has reclassified the job titles of large blocs of political appointees, preventing them from being easily replaced.
The reclassified employees include 12 deputy county attorneys taking new competitive assistant county attorney titles, with their resume of experience substituting for normal hiring tests, officials said. Some 26 community service representatives, whose jobs have been a traditional slot to place patronage employees, also were reclassified.
They have become members of Nassau’s Civil Service Employees Association, which provides them with protection from being fired at will and also qualifies them for union negotiated raises.
In addition, a half-dozen other exempt employees — those who can be hired and fired at will — have taken vacant civil service positions. This group includes Doreen Pennica, who has worked for more than 20 years for Mangano, first as his assistant when he was a county legislator from 1996 though 2009, and then as office gatekeeper after he became county executive in 2010. Her new position is secretary to the Deputy Commissioners of Parks, Recreation & Museums, for an annual salary of $95,741, officials said.
The moves occurred before July, not only allowing the reclassified employees to serve a six-month probation period, if necessary, before a new administration takes office, but also allowing them to collect a 2 percent union raise that took effect July 1.
Chief Deputy County Executive Rob Walker said the changes are intended to provide for “continuity of government” rather than protect existing employees or to hamstring the incoming county executive. He said the union and County Attorney Carnell Foskey initiated the reclassifications.
“It’s not about protecting anyone,” Walker said. The affected employees “are not policy makers,” he said, but are experienced government employees who “know what they’re doing.”
CSEA president Jerry Laricchiuta said that he has been working with the administration for months to execute the changes. “I’ve been trying to get county attorneys and community service reps into the union since 2005,” Laricchiuta said. “County attorneys, I want them all in.”
Mangano’s trial — on charges of receiving bribes and kickbacks from indicted restaurateur Harendra Singh in return for county work — is scheduled for mid-January. Mangano has pleaded not guilty and said he will not resign before his term expires Dec. 31. He has not said whether he will run again but recent moves — including the protection of key employees — signals that he expects to leave.
Legis. Laura Curran (D-Baldwin), the Democratic nominee for county executive, said, the reclassification of employees “is troubling but unsurprising. This is the typical backroom dealing we’ve come to expect from the Mangano administration — working in secret to protect their cronies no matter how it affects Nassau taxpayers.”
County Comptroller George Maragos, who is challenging Curran for the Democratic nomination, said, “This practice should not be condoned. It circumvents the Civil Service system, which ensures that the best candidates are objectively hired with taxpayer money”.
Former state Sen. Jack Martins, the Republican nominee for county executive, said, “I have zero tolerance for such business as usual. The residents of our great county deserve better — all hires, including civil service hires, must be based on merit.”
Laricchiuta said Monday he had gotten calls from local officials asking about the list of reclassified employees, but said he wasn’t interested in names, only titles.
“If some of these were patronage jobs in the past, they won’t be patronage jobs in the future. That’s the way I look at it,” he said.
Walker said the assistant county attorney positions were capped at a salary of $80,000, so most of deputy county attorneys could not be reclassified. He also said that 10 of the 26 community service representatives had been hired before Mangano took office.