Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone wants to partly roll back a double dipping ban that precludes Legislator-elect Monica Martinez from working as both a county lawmaker and a public school assistant principal, with an expected combined salary of $215,000 next year.
Bellone's bill, filed Wednesday, would change a 2011 local law and subsequent ethics rules barring elected county officials from collecting two public salaries from the county "or any other level of government."
The law sought to "reduce the . . . perception that elected officials are prospering by receiving paychecks from multiple government jobs in a time of national economic crisis." The law exempts teachers in public schools or colleges.
Bellone's proposal widens the exemption, saying the law "shall not apply" to elected officials "who also hold a position in a public school district, a library district or in a fire district."
Martinez, a Democrat, earns $117,000 a year as an assistant principal at East Middle School in Brentwood and will earn $98,260 next year as a county legislator. During her campaign against Democratic Legis. Rick Montano, Martinez said she expected to keep both jobs, and that she believed it to be legal to hold both posts. Bellone, also a Democrat, backed Martinez in the race.
Martinez declined to comment until she has a chance to review the measure. She said she expects to meet soon with school officials to discuss how she plans to handle both jobs.
Bellone's resolution, entitled "A local Law to Clarify 77-4 of the Suffolk County Code," aims to eliminate "lingering confusion" about whom current law applies to. The measure says it was "clearly stated" in legislative debate that it should not apply to school, fire or library districts. Martinez could face a violation of current ethics rules, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
"We have to acknowledge the reality that there are litigious people in the world and to the extent it can be clarified we want to make sure the law plainly says what the legislative counsel said at the time," said Jon Schneider, deputy county executive. He referred to a 2011 Ways and Means committee meeting in which legislative counsel said the law "does not specifically address school or library districts."
Schneider said voters elected Martinez knowing about her possible dual role.
"Frankly, a decision like this should be left to voters," Schneider said.
Minority Leader John Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said the law and later ethic rules apply to Martinez, and that it is improper to carve out a special exemption after her election. Kennedy said Martinez should resign from the school position, noting that GOP Legislator-elect Kevin McCaffrey is giving up his position as a Lindenhurst trustee and Legislator-elect Robert Trotta, a Republican, is retiring from the Suffolk police force.
"This is another example of the county executive overreaching and trying to control the game basket to basket and buzzer to buzzer," Kennedy said.
The majority Democratic caucus discussed the issue Wednesday but took no formal position, said Majority Leader DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville). He said he is leaning toward supporting Bellone's bill because it seems discriminatory to exempt teachers, and not school administrators, while preventing other school district employees, firefighters and others from holding two positions.
Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) said she opposed the Bellone bill."I voted for the original resolution, and I'm not changing my vote," she said.