Calls for animal shelter salary reform

A cat waits to be adopted from the

A cat waits to be adopted from the Town of Hempstead Animal Shelter in Wantagh. (Jan. 26, 2011) (Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr. )

Local government watchdogs and animal-welfare advocates called for reform at the Hempstead Town Animal Shelter after Newsday's disclosure of the six-figure wages paid to Republican loyalists at the agency last year.

And one Republican town councilman, Ed Ambrosino, said there are "a whole bunch of options on the table," for bettering the shelter. While he would not discuss specifics, he said he stands with Supervisor Kate Murray in a commitment to making that happen.

"I am not saying the animal shelter has been run poorly, but it can always be improved," Ambrosino said. "We can treat the animals with the dignity and respect they deserve while keeping the taxpayer in mind."

Newsday reported Sunday that the shelter paid nine employees - a third of its full-time staff - more than $100,000 in 2010. All but one of them has links to the local GOP.

The Hempstead shelter's primary budget of $3.6 million in 2010 easily surpassed that of other animal shelters on Long Island. Brookhaven Town, the runner-up, had a shelter budget of $1.7 million and last year took in 2,279 animals compared with 3,498 in Hempstead.

In addition to its primary budget, Hempstead's shelter paid $3.5 million to town departments that did work on its behalf, bringing its total spending last year to $7.1 million.

The shelter's yoking of political activism to public employment is "one of the worst things that can happen to a government," said Lisa Tyson, director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, a good-government group based in Massapequa.

"We need a government that works for all of us," she said, "not a government that works for a few people to put dollars in their pockets."

Charles Sellitto, president of CSEA Local 880, which represents the shelter employees paid more than $100,000, including seven who are subject to civil service exams, said the tests don't ask political affiliation.

"Mostly these salaries are reflective of long tenure," Sellitto said. "Most of these employees have been here for decades. These are professionals."

Town spokesman Mike Deery issued a statement Sunday that said, in part, that "involvement in politics plays no role in the workplace activities of the town employees who rescue and care for cats and dogs on a daily basis."

Derek Donnelly, a Democrat who directs the group Hope For Hempstead Shelter, responded: "If that's the case, why do almost all these people making over $100,000 have GOP connections? Why don't they hire Democrats? Or independents?"

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