It's nice work if you can get it.
Nine Hempstead Animal Shelter employees - one-third of the full-time staff - were paid more than $100,000 in 2010. Eight of them have GOP ties. Of those, six were elected to Nassau GOP committee seats in 2009, the last year elections were held. Three hold or have held leadership posts at GOP clubs. All but one has donated repeatedly to the local party, to Republican Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray, or to both, records show.
The shelter's $3-million payroll dwarfs the total budgets of each of the eight other municipal shelters on Long Island, where only two employees - shelter directors in Oyster Bay and Smithtown - were paid more than $100,000 last year.
"It is rare that patronage coexists happily with good governance," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, which advocates government reform. "It's usually an effort by the politically powerful to reward the party faithful with the taxpayer picking up the tab."
Murray said political activity should not bar individuals from public employment.
"Whether a person is politically active or not, that stops at the door for me," Murray said in an interview last week. "When they are on the clock they are giving 100 percent of their effort to their professional responsibilities."
The shelter is the target of protesters who allege animals there are poorly treated. A continuing internal town probe led to a management shake-up in October, and the office of Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice is investigating what Murray called administrative issues at the shelter. Rice has not disclosed the focus of her inquiry.
An examination of public records by Newsday, along with interviews, shows:
In 2010, the shelter spent $7.1 million. Of that amount, $3.6 million represented its primary budget, and $3.5 million was money charged to the shelter by town departments that did work on its behalf.
Nine of the Hempstead shelter's 29 full-time employees were paid more than $100,000 in 2010; only three of New York City's 130 shelter system full-timers eclipsed six figures. In Chicago, four out of 68 did so; in Boston, officials said only one employee out of 20 was paid at that level.
Brookhaven Town had the second highest animal shelter budget on Long Island - at $1.7 million, less than half Hempstead's primary budget - and last year took in 2,279 animals compared with 3,498 in Hempstead.
New York City, which handled nearly 38,000 animals last year, budgeted $7.1 million in taxpayer dollars this year for its shelter system, which also expects to spend about $2 million more in private funds.
Unlike New York, Chicago and Boston, Hempstead's shelter has no veterinarian on staff. It contracts with four private animal-care providers who send veterinarians regularly to the shelter to perform euthanasia, give vaccinations and do examinations. In November, Hempstead announced - after investigations of the shelter went public - that it planned to hire a full-time vet. Murray has said she hopes to do so at the Feb. 8 town board meeting.
Chicago spent $4.5 million on its shelter program last year, about $900,000 more than Hempstead's primary shelter budget, and handled five times the number of animals.
"Overpaying, overhiring, or hiring unqualified people is something that cannot be tolerated in these high-tax, tough economic times," he said.
Town officials said that seven of the nine employees who were paid more than $100,000 last year have taken civil service exams intended to rank qualifications and limit the role politics plays in government hiring. They said some have worked at the shelter for decades, entitling them to steadily higher wages. Civil service rules do not set salary levels.
Every dollar being spent is justified, officials said.
"We are putting our money where it's critically needed to enhance the lives of our four-legged friends," Murray said. "I would say we spend our money in a very appropriate manner."
Assistant shelter director Gary Shaw, one of the nine who was paid more than six figures last year, was moved from the shelter in April 2008. Town spokesman Mike Deery would not say why, citing "internal personnel matters."
Since leaving the shelter, Deery said, Shaw has worked out of the town cemetery and from Town Hall, assisting animal control officers in the field and testifying in dangerous dog cases. Shaw collected more than $124,000 last year in wages. Deery said Friday that Shaw is resigning from his job effective Feb. 4.
Charles Milone was paid $122,575 as acting shelter director, a post he held for several years. He was transferred from the job in October amid the shelter probes. Milone is listed on the Nassau GOP website as leader of the Seaford Republican Club. Deery said Milone continues to collect his income as a commissioner in the general services department, which was his official title when he ran the shelter.
Joanne Mirenda, a community services representative who took in $106,056 at the shelter last year, is listed on the website as the Seaford club's president. Both Mirenda and Milone hold exempt positions not subject to civil service requirements.
Others among the nine include Thomas Cincotta, who has served as a Wantagh Republican Club vice president. As the shelter's assistant director, he received $122,902 last year. Deery said Cincotta retired from the town last Wednesday; state records indicate he is slated to retire in March.
Those three, as well as three of the other shelter top earners - Domenick Arcuri, John Christiansen, and Richard Hayes - were elected as Nassau GOP committee members in 2009, records show. Patricia Horan, the current acting director, has donated to local GOP organizations and candidates.
Arcuri, who received $109,219 as the shelter's building manager last year, is to retire next month, according to state records. His son Nicholas Arcuri was also on the shelter's payroll last year as the $82,199 labor crew chief. Like his father, Nicholas Arcuri took a Nassau GOP committee seat in 2009, election records show.
Of the nine employees being paid more than six figures, only Regina Thorne, an adoption coordinator transferred from the shelter with Milone in October, has no apparent record of GOP activism. Thorne was paid $104,632 last year and retired this month after a quarter-century of service to the town.
Milone and Shaw referred questions to Deery, Thorne, Horan, and Arcuri declined to comment, three other employees did not respond to repeated messages, and one could not be reached. Nassau GOP chairman Joseph Mondello also declined to be interviewed.
With Randi Marshall