Bellone delays bid to end ban on removing officials midterm

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Facing sharp opposition, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone is delaying his bid to end a local prohibition against removing elected officials during the middle of their terms.

Aides to Bellone, a Democrat, asked the county legislature's Ways & Means Committee Wednesday to table the controversial bill to revise Suffolk's charter. Bellone wanted the change before trying again to merge the independent treasurer and comptroller's offices.

Republican Treasurer Angie Carpenter, whose job would be eliminated in the merger, is about to begin a new four-year term, and argues that the charter, as written, protects her.

Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider told lawmakers that Bellone will meet with Suffolk's other elected leaders in the coming weeks to discuss the merger effort and other ways to save taxpayer dollars.

Bellone's request to table the charter change bill came after every countywide official leader but one had lobbied against it, saying that the administration hadn't consulted them before making the proposal.

"If this law is passed, I assure you the county will face multiple lawsuits against it," Sheriff Vincent DeMarco testified.

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DeMarco, a Conservative Party member, was joined at the committee by District Attorney Thomas Spota, a Democrat, Clerk Judith Pascale, a Republican, and Carpenter. GOP Comptroller Joseph Sawicki, who supports the merger plan, was not present.

"I think it's a prudent move to allow the county executive and the legislature to reorganize and consolidate offices to reduce the size of the budget," Sawicki said in an interview after the meeting.

The charter revision flap arose from Bellone's effort to fold Carpenter's office into Sawicki's. The merger would eliminate several treasurer's appointee positions and save between $700,000 and $850,000 a year, according to legislative and administration estimates.

A planned referendum on the merger was approved by lawmakers earlier this year, but a state court knocked it off the ballot. The court said Suffolk officials had violated county law by adopting a measure authorizing the referendum without notifying the public of revisions to the original resolution.

In the meantime, Carpenter was re-elected to another term. She and others said the charter provision against removing officials midterm precluded the administration from pursuing the merger until at least 2018.

Bellone, who plans to press the merger next year, countered that he and the legislature already can abolish elected offices via referendums. He says the charter provision he sought to change only requires that officials removed in the middle of terms be reassigned within the county for the time remaining in their terms.

"The county executive does not, will not and never will have the authority to unilaterally abolish any office," Schneider told the committee. "Any decision will be made in conjunction with this legislative body and via referendum."Committee chairman Legis. Lou D'Amaro (D-North Babylon), praised the decision to table the bill, saying he had, "serious reservations about the legislation, if its operative effect was to permit removal of an elected official midterm. But let's sit down and have a rational conversation about this."

In other action yesterday, the committee approved a bill that prohibits Suffolk's new Traffic & Parking Violations Agency from collecting $50 administrative fees from drivers who are found not guilty and have their tickets dismissed. The bill -- which also would raise the fee on drivers who are found guilty from $50 to $55 -- is expected to be approved by the full Legislature on Tuesday

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