Despite court ruling, Nassau police pact isn't dead

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano shown speaking during Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano shown speaking during a press conference at the Nassau County Executive building. (Sept. 12, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has

A federal appeals court decision last week killed both the supposed urgency and justification of an overly generous proposed contract between Nassau County and its largest police union.

That doesn't mean the measure won't pass, however.

County Executive Edward Mangano, who is up for re-election, and Nassau's police benevolent union have corralled some heavyweights to bolster the pact's success.

Among them are former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato -- who went so far as to chide the Nassau Interim Finance Authority and praise the deal in a column published in a community newspaper group one day before the court decision came down.

And maybe even Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo -- who less than a week after NIFA criticized the deal, replaced its chairman with a politician rather than an expert in finance.

Cuomo's chairman, former North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman -- who as of today earns $150,000 a year as Cuomo's special adviser on superstorm Sandy recovery in addition to holding the unpaid NIFA post -- was quick to respond to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision.

The court on Friday tossed back to a lower court the police and other unions' appeal on NIFA's almost three-year wage freeze -- leaving the freeze in place.

"My next step is to get everyone to the bargaining table," said Kaiman, sounding more like a politician than a NIFA chairman overseeing a county that, over 13 years, has failed to fix its finances.

Residents don't need Kaiman singing "Kumbaya" with Mangano or the police union. NIFA's job is to scrutinize the proposed pact, Mangano's proposed 2014 budget, the county's proposed borrowing and more expensive contracts. And then tell officials -- and by extension, residents -- what's strong and what's wrong with them.

The proposed contract was being fast-tracked by Mangano et al, over fears that the federal appeals court would order Nassau to pay out more than $200 million in compensation lost to the freeze. Didn't happen.

So, now the new false urgency is that the amount could double years down the line when unions appeal and Nassau loses.

The urgency and justification arguments don't make sense. And neither does the assertion that the proposed deal will save taxpayers money.

Residents have heard that argument before in proposed contracts dating back to former County Executive Thomas Gulotta. And it never turned out to be true.

The last time a police contract came around, under former County Executive Thomas Suozzi -- who is running against Mangano for his old job -- significant savings were supposed to be had by giving new police hires absurdly low starting salaries that ramped up quickly over a short time.

However, because of the freeze, salaries of those officers and other new hires have been locked for almost three years.

That's not NIFA's fault, as the unions, D'Amato and Mangano -- who has spent three years running against the control board -- would have residents believe.

Fault lies with each side's inability to reach an agreement that does not echo the politically expedient excesses of pacts by Mangano's predecessors.

Years ago, NIFA's first chairman, Frank Zarb, laid out guidelines for crafting labor-management agreements that would help Nassau climb out of the hole.

One guideline was short-term deals, with reopeners for shared management-union gain once Nassau's finances got better. Another was that the cost of agreements should not be kicked down the line -- a move that helps control costs in one or two budget cycles but wildly escalates them later.

Not a single agreement, over more than a decade, has followed that or any other recommendation.

The proposed agreement between Mangano and the PBA does nothing to significantly help Nassau get back on its feet -- or keep county residents from continuing to have a significant portion of their tax dollars pay for borrowing costs rather than services.

For Nassau, alas, that's become business as usual.

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