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Court showdown over Nassau legislative action

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano in Mineola. (May

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano in Mineola. (May 11, 2012) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau's correction officers union Monday asked a state court judge to throw out a law allowing County Executive Edward Mangano to unilaterally reduce contractual benefits, alleging the county legislature violated New York's open meetings law when it narrowly approved the measure last month.

The Nassau County Sheriff's Correction Officers Benevolent Association contends the legislature violated the state law that requires public votes be taken in public by allowing Legis. Dennis Dunne (R-Levittown), who was recovering from leg surgery, to vote unseen from a backroom of the meeting chambers.

The union also alleges that Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) did not comply with the state's public notice requirements. Schmitt announced during the May 21 meeting that the measure would not be considered that day. But after the audience left, Republican lawmakers voted 10-0 to approve the law while the legislature's nine Democrats walked out in protest.

Schmitt said through a spokesman Monday, "I and the legislature acted in full compliance with the law."

County Attorney John Ciampoli, a Republican, said a court cannot intervene in the legislature's internal rules for conducting its own business.

The law gives Mangano unilateral authority to cut $41 million from the budget through a variety of options: furloughing union employees for one day a week, modifying county contracts, cutting county contributions to employee benefits, selling county buildings and freezing wages.

Mangano has yet to sign the law, which will automatically take effect June 20 if he does not act.

"The way that the legislation passed was very disturbing," said correction officers union president John Jaronczyk. "County executive Mangano and the Republican-controlled legislature bypassed the fair and legal process."

The union, which has also challenged the law's constitutionality in federal court, asked State Supreme Court Justice Robert Bruno to issue a temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction and to declare the law void.

Bruno denied the restraining order because the law is not in effect. But he allowed the case to go forward on its merits, asking both sides to return to court June 27.

Newsday reported last week that Dunne's vote appeared to violate the open meetings law, which requires members of public bodies to be "gathered together in the presence of each other or through the use of videoconferencing" when they take action. A 2005 state appellate court struck down telephone voting because of that requirement.

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