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Long IslandColumnistsRick Brand

Bellone decision not to reappoint civil service head causing a stir

Suffolk town supervisors association wants Alan Schneider to get a new 6-year term.

Alan Schneider, personnel director of Suffolk's civil service

Alan Schneider, personnel director of Suffolk's civil service department, oversees 47,500 civil service appointments and more than 200 local governments throughout Suffolk. Photo Credit: NEWSDAY/DAVID L. POKRESS

For the past 35 years, Alan Schneider has been the guardian of Suffolk’s Civil Service system. And the county’s 10 town supervisors — Republican and Democrat — said last week they’d like to keep it that way.

While Schneider’s job title is personnel director of Suffolk’s Civil Service Department, his responsibility is far broader. He oversees 47,500 civil service appointments and 278 local governments throughout Suffolk — towns, villages, and school, fire and library districts.  

The Suffolk County Supervisors' Association on Tuesday sent a letter to County Executive Steve Bellone strongly urging Schneider’s appointment to a new six-year term, when his current one expires Feb. 13.

The supervisors called it “vital” that the head of Civil Service be “knowledgeable.” They lauded Schneider for his “unmatched understanding of the complexities” of the job and a “well-earned reputation as a professional.”

The letter was dated last Tuesday, the same day, government sources say, Bellone told Schneider, there will be no new term and asked that he resign quietly. Jason Elan, Bellone spokesman, late Friday confirmed, “The county executive has informed Mr. Schneider that he will not be reappointed. We will not comment further as this is a personnel matter.” Schneider also declined to comment.

Below the surface, the letter is also the latest torpedo from Suffolk Democratic chairman Rich Schaffer, the head of the supervisor’s association, in his ongoing fray with Bellone. Before it is over, the fight could end up in the county legislature.

The civil service post — like a handful of other sensitive county jobs — carries a term to give the incumbent independence to carry out state rules, aimed at creating a fair competitive merit system for filling government jobs. And Schneider, by state law, as a term appointee, remains a holdover until Bellone’s chosen replacement can win legislative confirmation.

But Bellone in recent months has installed interim department heads in Social Services, Public Works and Fire Rescue and Emergency Services, and kept an acting probation director in place for about two years without bringing anyone before the legislature for confirmation.

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague), who also backs Schneider’s reappointment, expressed concern with Bellone’s increasing use of temporary department heads, which “could be a way to restrict our oversight, which is something we will not stand for.”

Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr., a Republican who is weighing a run against Bellone, said he also backs Schneider’s reappointment and called Bellone’s move “a blatant overreach to put in someone who will operate with the county executive in a less than arms-length manner.”

Despite Bellone’s decision to move on, the town officials in their letter also said it is “critical” the county executive do a “comprehensive national search” to replace Schneider. Because of the job’s countywide reach, they said a search panel should not only include representatives of the executive and the county legislature, but also schools, towns, villages and libraries.

Even Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, a strong Bellone ally, signed the letter backing Schneider, even though he got $44,000 from the county executive for his losing comptroller race last fall.

“The letter respected his right to make a change,” Schneiderman said. “But civil service is really important to what we do every day -- hiring and firing. You've got to give us someone really qualified so we know what we can do and can’t do.”

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