New release-time scrap erupts in Suffolk over AME fund

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Cheryl Felice, former Association of Municipal Employees president.

Cheryl Felice, former Association of Municipal Employees president. Photo Credit: Newsday, 2003 / Mia Aigotti

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The Bellone administration has given former Association of Municipal Employees president Cheryl Felice release time to work at the county’s $22 million benefit fund instead of her regular $79,900 a year post as a criminal identification technician.

It’s a move that has inflamed her union successor Dan Farrell who is threatening to file a lawsuit.

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When a person is granted release time for a union by a government jurisdiction, he or she is often paid by the public agency during that period.

Felice, who is the fund’s deputy administrator, has been working at the AME benefit fund full-time  for the last month or two, since the fund administrator took leave for an operation and was subsequently involved in a car accident, according to Paul Margiotta acting director of labor relations.

 Margiotta said the county has every right to assign Felice to the fund -- even though that job is not a county position. He added that Felice is only making her county salary while doing benefit fund work and is not getting the extra stipend she had been receiving as deputy administrator, which pays up to $54,000 a year.

However, Sheriff Vincent DeMarco said his office must now fill Felice’s county job with another worker on overtime at time and a half. The sheriff also said giving Felice release time “seems a little strange since its not coming from the union.”  He added he has “never gotten a clear cut interpretation” on the legal authority for the action. “It’s been a vague issue,” he said.

County contracts permit unions officials to assign member release time with county approval for things like negotiating contracts and handling grievances or serving on county-union committees.

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“This is totally ridiculous and is costing the taxpayers extra money,” said Farrell. Margiotta responded, “They seem to like losing lawsuits that cost their members money.”

Photo: Cheryl Felice.

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