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Bellone administration violated nepotism law with promotion

Elaine Barraga, the daughter of Suffolk Legis. Thomas

Elaine Barraga, the daughter of Suffolk Legis. Thomas Barraga, needed legislative approval under the county's nepotism law before her Dec. 19, 2016, promotion to bureau chief in the Suffolk County Attorney's Office, heading the general litigation unit.

The administration of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone violated county nepotism law by failing to put the promotion of Legis. Thomas Barraga’s daughter up for a legislative vote before promoting her to the $150,540-a-year job as a bureau chief in the county attorney’s office.

Elaine Barraga, who had been deputy bureau chief, was promoted to head the general litigation unit effective Dec. 19, one day before her father provided the key 10th vote for legislation that imposes a $300 mortgage fee.

The vote by her father, who is term-limited, allowed two Democratic lawmakers facing tough re-election bids in November to oppose the measure. County Attorney Dennis Brown and Barraga (R-West Islip) said the mortgage fee vote had no connection with the promotion of Barraga’s daughter.

Records show Elaine Barraga, 47, won legislative approval in 2010 for her original job as an $89,314-a-year principal assistant county attorney.

But no resolutions were filed for subsequent promotions as a $95,030-a-year principal assistant county attorney in 2011 or deputy bureau chief in 2014, at a salary of $115,205 annually. Since then, her pay had risen to $144,620.

Vanessa Baird-Streeter, spokeswoman for County Executive Steve Bellone, called the error “an oversight by the law department.” She said a resolution will be filed “as soon as possible,” and that it will cover earlier promotions.

County law requires relatives of elected officials, commissioners and county officials in policymaking positions to get legislative approval before hiring or promotion in jobs exempt from Civil Service. “Such hiring or promoting shall not be effective unless and until it is approved by resolution of the Suffolk County Legislature,” the law says.

It also mandates that the county comptroller “seek reimbursement” of salary and other compensation including fringe benefits “during any ... period of violation plus interest.” Experts say the law would only affect pay raises and benefits for job titles that the legislature did not approve.

Legislative Counsel George Nolan called the penalty too harsh.

“To punish the individual does not make sense,” Nolan said. “If the appropriate resolution was not filed, it’s the responsibility of the [law] department or the administration” to put it forward.

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said he was unaware of the promotion provision. “I don’t think it has ever come up before,” he said, adding that he expects approval of the promotion resolution for Elaine Barraga.

Bellone aides said there were two other instances where mistakes were made and promotion resolutions were done retroactively early last year.

Barraga noted that his daughter won legislative approval when she was first hired. He said he was unaware of the need for a vote on promotions, but he added that he would have complied if he had known.

“I’ve always been completely transparent,” he said. “No one was trying to make an end run around any legislation,” Barraga said, adding that his daughter “is hardworking and has been a tremendous asset” to the county.

Elaine Barraga also had applied to move to a newly created position of deputy counsel at Suffolk County Community College. Barraga previously worked as an attorney for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and for the state attorney general. A decision on the college job is expected within 30 days.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story listed an incorrect title for Elaine Barraga when she was hired by the Suffolk County attorney’s office in 2010. The county legislature approved her hiring as a principal assistant county attorney.


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