Suffolk double-dipping ban's intent spelled out in law

Monica Martinez at her primary victory party at Monica Martinez at her primary victory party at Comalapa restaurant in Brentwood. (Sept.10, 2013) Photo Credit: Daniel Goodrich

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

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

The Suffolk County Legislature, back in 2011, took a run at a multitude of polls showing trust in public institutions and public officials had eroded to historically low levels.

The result was a local law that banned elected officials from earning two public paychecks unless -- and the law is specific on this -- they worked as teachers or professors in public school districts or colleges.

These days, trust in public institutions and officials has dropped even lower. But that isn't stopping County Executive Steve Bellone from proposing a county law change that would allow newly elected legislator Monica Martinez to earn $215,000.

Bellone wants to amend the county's ban on double dipping to let Martinez double dip.

Oh, the irony.

To her credit, Martinez, a Democrat who defeated Bellone critic and longtime Legis. Rick Montano in a Democratic primary and the general election, early on signaled her intent to attempt to continue as an assistant principal and lawmaker.

But she has a problem since Suffolk's double-dipping ban -- which later was adopted as part of a package to reform Suffolk's board of ethics -- stands in her way. So Bellone, who funneled a portion of his campaign fund to support Martinez's run, is coming to her rescue.

The administration is relying on, among other things, 11 sentences from a transcript of a 2011 legislative committee meeting on the measure to justify its move.

But that trip to the Wayback Machine doesn't clear the proposal's way so easily, either.

That's because the law's purpose is specifically spelled out in its section on "legislative intent."

Here, Suffolk's law speaks -- clearly and quite eloquently -- for itself:

"This Legislature hereby finds and determines that virtually all polling shows that trust in public institutions and public officials had eroded to historically low levels. . . . That the public's cynicism and distrust is heightened when the conduct of a public official is compromised by a conflict of interest. . . . That public confidence in government suffers when officials collect two public salaries simultaneously."

The legislature called its double-dipping ban "a good first step in restoring public confidence . . . as it would reduce the incidence of real and/or perceived conflicts of interest that elected officials are prospering by receiving paychecks from multiple government jobs in a time of national economic crisis."

That was before the nation's Great Recession, which still is impacting the region's slow-recovery economy, and before Suffolk's current budget crisis.

It was before the county, in desperate moves to find revenue, did a sell-leaseback deal on the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge, committed to pulling money out of sewer funds and sprinkled intersections with red-light cameras.

And it came before Suffolk began assessing an insultingly labeled "Driver Responsibility Fee" of $50 for motorists, even those determined not guilty in some traffic-related cases.

Public cynicism?

With Bellone's latest move, it's growing.

You also may be interested in: