Smithtown council member Thomas McCarthy at least had moxie enough to vote out in the open for a $30,000 hike in compensation -- but that doesn't change the fact that he should have recused himself.
The 600 percent hike in his stipend as deputy town supervisor squeaked by on a 3-2 vote, and a tie would have meant no raise. From the town taxpayer's point of view, that's how it should have gone down.
In the resulting public uproar over his vote, McCarthy Monday afternoon cried uncle. In a single-sentence missive to Supervisor Patrick Vecchio and fellow board members, McCarthy said he intended to sponsor a resolution at Tuesday's special board meeting to rescind the resolution on the increase.
McCarthy and Vecchio -- along with council member Lynne C. Nowick, all of whom voted for McCarthy's stipend increase -- likely would have had to contend with some angry residents.
McCarthy's vote last week was politically tone-deaf. More, could it have been a violation of the town's own ethics code, which calls for avoiding even the appearance of a conflict of interest in doing the public's business?
McCarthy initially defended the big jump in stipend by: A) noting that he'd passed up the opportunity to accept one the first year he took the deputy post, and B) saying that he's taken on significant additional duties more recently.
The town's second-highest-ranking official went on to state that he saw no conflict of interest in casting the deciding vote on his raise.
"Every year we have a preliminary budget we vote for and a permanent budget that we vote for that has all elected officials' salaries in there," he told Newsday's Lauren R. Harrison last week. "If you vote for yourself once every year, to vote for yourself a different time, I don't see it as a conflict," he said.
By McCarthy's reasoning, it was OK for him to vote an increase for himself once in a preliminary budget -- so that he could do it again for the final one.
McCarthy missed the mark on this one.
Just because McCarthy holds the town title does not mean the office belongs to him. It belongs to the town and by extension, town residents. As such, it was proper that the board determine reasonable compensation for the post -- rather than the person who, for now, holds it.
Vecchio said Monday he would support rescinding the increase.
It would have been heartening to hear somebody in Smithtown government call McCarthy out on the day of the vote. Instead, there was no discussion.
No matter. McCarthy's vote to give himself a big fat raise was wrong, which makes his decision to rescind the raise the right -- and only sensible -- move.