North Hempstead Highway Superintendent Thomas Tiernan collected more than $134,000 in overtime in the past five years, making him the only town highway department head on Long Island to be paid for working extra hours.
Tiernan, who oversees road maintenance in one of Long Island’s smallest towns, was paid about $40,000 in overtime last year, $30,000 in 2014 and $21,000 in 2013, Newsday payroll data and town records show.
Tiernan has worked for the town since 1980 and took the highway superintendent job in 2000. In 2011, the position was made into a civil service job, allowing for overtime pay. He made $178,537.64 in total compensation in 2015 — the most paid to a highway superintendent on Long Island.
North Hempstead’s highway department maintains nearly 275 miles of roadway. Brookhaven, with 1,675 miles of roads — the largest number in any town statewide — paid Highway Superintendent Daniel Losquadro $98,534 last year.
Public policy experts and other highway superintendents called Tiernan’s compensation package unusual, saying overtime is usually reserved for department employees, not superintendents.
“In most agencies, managers are not making overtime on a regular basis,” said Ellen Rubin, a professor of public personnel management at the University at Albany.
North Hempstead spokeswoman Carole Trottere said Tiernan’s position is covered by the collective bargaining agreement between the town and Unit 7555 of the Civil Service Employee’s Association.
No other town senior staff members or department heads make overtime or hold civil service titles.
Tiernan declined to comment on his compensation package, saying he did not have permission from the town’s public relations office to discuss it.
“If he is getting paid a considerable chunk of OT, and people who are in similar positions to his are not drawing that, it does raise the question about why it is justifiable,” said Pamela Tolbert, a professor of Industrial Labor Relations at Cornell University, who has studied civil service reform.
Riverhead Highway Superintendent George Woodson, who was paid $88,665 last year and is president of the Suffolk County Highway Superintendent’s Association, said he would “love” to be paid overtime like Tiernan. Woodson said working longer than a standard workweek comes with the job and that he works an additional 1,800 hours a year with no additional pay.
A highway superintendent is the “CEO of a large company,” said Jeff Griswold, president of the New York State Association of Town Superintendents of Highways. Tiernan supervises 87 employees. Brookhaven’s Losquadro manages 281 employees.
North Hempstead Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said that Tiernan “is entitled to OT” and referred to his union contract.
“This is what the situation was when I took office,” Bosworth said. “Tom Tiernan, who is an excellent highway superintendent, is a member of the CSEA, and so he’s getting compensated according to the terms of that contract.”
Former Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman, who served between 2004 and 2013, said that Tiernan works as a manager and on the streets, “plowing and doing the work that would generally take several other employees to accomplish.”
“This saves the town money,” Kaiman said in an email. “Paying him a little more was worth the savings in a very difficult economic time.”
Kaiman praised Tiernan’s work for the town, saying in an email that Tiernan “generated millions of dollars for the town” through a program in which town highway department employees work for villages on weekends.
Kaiman said Tiernan’s compensation package had been about fairness.
“His workers were getting overtime and he was not,” Kaiman said. “Other commissioners didn’t put in extra work like that and so it was an unfair situation . . . We didn’t want to lose him as a manager, he is one of the best. Obviously, he was also out there in snow, wind and rain storms where other commissioners were not.”
Highway departments are responsible for fixing potholes and paving roads, but come under the heaviest scrutiny in the winter months when they plow streets of snow. The departments in recent years have often exceeded their budgets scrambling to cover costs for salting, sanding and plowing. Twelve Long Island municipalities, including North Hempstead, exceeded their snow removal budgets by a combined $15.2 million last year.
“They have deputies and foremen that handle the day-to-day activities,” Griswold said. “The actual superintendent, as a general rule, is going to meet with the engineers and meet with the people during normal business hours. I’m not sure how you get that kind of OT” that Tiernan was paid.
Eleven of Long Island’s 13 towns have highway superintendents or commissioners, nine of which are in Suffolk and are elected positions. Shelter Island’s superintendent, Jay Card, was the lowest paid with a $78,030 salary last year. His department maintains 52 miles of road. Huntington’s Peter Gunther, with 800 miles of roadway to care for, was the second-highest paid behind Tiernan at $146,969, and Hempstead’s Highway Commissioner Thomas Toscano was paid $141,145 to cover nearly 1,200 miles of road. Hempstead and North Hempstead are the only towns where the department leaders hold civil service titles. Hempstead does not pay Toscano overtime.
Tiernan also is North Hempstead’s highest-paid employee and is among several family members on the town payroll. Nassau prosecutors last week arrested his sister, Helen McCann, who was charged with embezzling $98,000 from the Solid Waste Management Agency. Her employment was terminated in January. Before working at the solid waste agency, McCann was Kaiman’s longtime secretary.
Tiernan’s brother John Tiernan, a highway construction supervisor, made $24,394 in overtime in 2014 and received $110,162 in total pay. Thomas’ son is a salaried parks department employee and Thomas’ wife, Jill Guiney, made $124,503 as deputy commissioner of public works.