Suffolk police pact deserves full vetting

An undated file photo of a Suffolk police

An undated file photo of a Suffolk police vehicle. (Credit: Newsday/Alan Raia)

County Executive Steve Bellone released the third version of a proposed deal between Suffolk and its police officers' union on Friday.

He also -- finally -- gave it to over to county lawmakers for their consideration.

But here's the rub.

Lawmakers are slated to vote on the proposal Thursday -- yup, that would be six days after getting the document, along with the administration's analysis of what an approved deal would cost.

Legislators will get a second economic analysis of the measure from their own office of independent budget review. That will come Wednesday -- some 24 hours before the scheduled vote.

Suffolk residents wanting to make known their views on the measure will have their chance at a special legislative budget committee meeting Wednesday -- or on Thursday, before the vote.

Why the rush?

The police contract is one of three measures the Bellone administration considers essential for balancing the proposed 2013 budget plan he is slated to release next week.

Bellone wants lawmaker approval to sell a piece of land in Yaphank for $20 million and to sell the Foley nursing home in Yaphank to private operators for $23 million.

Both of those measures are slated for a vote Thursday. But they've been vetted repeatedly -- and publicly, over weeks rather than days -- through Suffolk's usual sausage-making legislative machine.

Bellone's office two weeks ago told a Newsday reporter that the administration's intent was to send the Police Benevolent Association measure through the normal process.

That's not happening.

Instead, the measure is getting an expedited, last-minute hearing before a special meeting of the legislature's budget committee. The move significantly compresses the time lawmakers -- and residents -- have to digest analyses or scrutinize the latest proposal before it goes to a vote.

Was that the administration's strategy? It works in neighboring Nassau County, where officials last year waited until almost the last minute to release a proposal to privatize operation of its bus company.

Suffolk had no such strategy for the police proposal, Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said Monday. "There were things we had to work on in the proposal that took time," he said.

Still, the administration is looking for legislative approval Thursday on the police proposal, land sale and nursing home privatization to help buttress Bellone's budget plan.

"What is driving our hand on a lot of it is budget, to get these things done," Schneider said. "It is not like months ago we said, 'Let's put these up on the same day.' "

Whatever the intent, the result is the same. And, no -- despite Schneider's argument otherwise -- the fact that terms of the first proposed deal were released four weeks ago is no substitute for a full, public vetting.

This is not the way to handle a deal as far-reaching and complex as the proposed police contract.