Legislators strip Levy of hiring authority

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy (Oct. 14, 2010) Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy (Oct. 14, 2010) Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

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In a direct shot at County Executive Steve Levy, Suffolk legislators Tuesday voted 16-2 to strip him of his authority to approve new hires to fill vacancies in the offices of the other five countywide elected officials.

The legislation would allow the county's clerk, comptroller, district attorney, sheriff and treasurer to hire for jobs already approved in the county budget. Under the county's charter, the county executive has authority to approve each new position, a fact that the five countywide elected officials have long complained about.

"We all respect each other, we all respect the jobs we have been hired by the taxpayers to do," Clerk Judith Pascale said. "All we are asking is that we be given the opportunity to do these jobs."

But Levy said his strict control of new hires is why the county has balanced budgets. While Levy is expected to veto the bill, it passed with enough votes to override any veto.

"Big-spending legislators have just created an instant budget shortfall by establishing five budgets outside the control of the chief budget officer," Levy said.

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Suffolk Legis. Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) urged Levy's supporters to back the proposal, adding it is unfair that Levy can alter the budget throughout the year by refusing to hire new employees for funded jobs.

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"He should not have the power to unilaterally amend the budget of this county; the charter does not give him that power," Romaine said. "For every conservative concerned about checks and balance, I say, 'Let the county executive come here and amend the budget.' "

Levy aide Ben Zwirn told lawmakers Levy has the authority to make budget decisions after the budget is enacted because he is, by statute, the county's chief budget officer. "That is why he gets to amend the budget on a regular basis and the legislature does not," Zwirn said.

Pascale joined Treasurer Angie Carpenter, Comptroller Joseph Sawicki and aides to District Attorney Thomas Spota and Sheriff Vincent DeMarco Tuesday to urge support for the bill. Levy's spokesmen did not offer an immediate reaction to the vote. The bill is sponsored by Legis. Vivian Viloria-Fisher (D-Setauket), who is expected to run for county executive.

Also Tuesday, state Supreme Court Justice Patrick A. Sweeney issued a temporary restraining order forbidding Levy from closing or selling the county's John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility before Jan. 6. Levy began mailing layoff notices to nursing home employees earlier this month when his effort to sell the Yaphank facility failed.

Four nursing home employees sought the court order, for which presiding officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) provided a supporting affidavit.

Levy spokesman Mark Smith said he is "not concerned" about the court order because Levy did not plan to close the facility in the next two weeks. Still, Smith said Levy will ask the Appellate Division to vacate the order.

Lawmakers also approved a $2.1-million naming-rights deal with Bethpage Federal Credit Union that will rename the Long Island Ducks stadium Bethpage Ballpark. The Central Islip facility went without a corporate name this season after an arrangement with Citibank expired after the 2009 season.

Legislators rejected a $50,000 federal grant to fund a bomb-sniffing dog for the Sheriff's Department to use at the county jail. The Police Benevolent Association opposed the grant.

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