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John Kennedy won't approve salary payments for Civil Service nominee

The GOP comptroller won't allow the payments to Jo-Anne Taormina, County Executive Steve Bellone's choice for Suffolk personnel director, unless she is confirmed.

Suffolk Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr. won't allow

Suffolk Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr. won't allow salary payments to Jo-Anne Taormina, the nominee for county personnel director, unless she is confirmed. Photo Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr., a Republican, said Wednesday he will not approve salary payments to Jo-Anne Taormina, County Executive Steve Bellone's choice for the county’s top civil service job, unless she is confirmed by the county Legislature.

“I’m not questioning his authority to hire,” said Kennedy, a contender to run against Bellone in November. “But he cannot act alone.”

Kennedy said Section 15b of state Civil Service Law states the county executive nominates the personnel officer, but lawmakers must vote to confirm.

Bellone swore in Taormina on Tuesday to  the $163,699-a-year job. Jason Elan, Bellone’s spokesman, said Taormina would be put on the payroll immediately, while acknowledging she would have to go through the confirmation process.

On Wednesday, Elan accused Kennedy of using his office “as a weapon to block reform and protect political insiders who are stalwart defenders of a broken system.”

Some critics said Bellone acted illegally  in removing Alan Schneider from the civil service post days after his term ran out last week. They said Schneider should remain as a holdover to protect the office’s independence until a successor is confirmed.

But County Attorney Dennis Brown said in a statement that state and county law say, "once Alan’s term expired, the office became vacant for the purposes of naming a successor.”

Bellone “was authorized to appoint a qualified successor, who serves pending legislative approval,” Brown said.

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague) who has circulated a letter protesting Bellone’s efforts to bypass the legislature, said legislative counsel does not agree.

“This really is about respect,” said Gregory. “We don’t have kings in Suffolk County. You have to follow the law.”

Tom Cilmi, GOP caucus leader, said Bellone’s “illegal appointment” hurts Taormina’s chances at confirmation. “We will not allow him to thumb his nose at the law,” Cilmi said,

Bellone ousted Schneider after telling him earlier this month he would not be reappointed.

All 10 town supervisors, led by Babylon Supervisor Rich Schaffer, who also is Suffolk Democratic chairman, called for Schneider’s reappointment — or at least for keeping him in place while they work with Bellone on a national search for a successor.

The civil service post oversees a system of merit hiring for 47,500 jobs for 278 jurisdictions including the county, towns, public schools, villages and fire and library districts.

Bellone has not filed a resolution to confirm Taormina, whose nomination he announced Feb. 15. The next legislative meeting is scheduled for March 5.

Under normal legislative process, any resolution filed in the next two weeks would  lie on the table until March 5, and then have to go through the committee system. If approved in committee, the soonest the resolution would come up for a vote is March 26.

Bellone could file an emergency measure to put the nomination on the March 5 agenda. But Taormina's confirmation would require 12 votes, and Democrats have only 10 votes. Democrat Monica Martinez resigned to become a state senator.

Gregory’s office said nine county lawmakers have agreed to sign the letter protesting Bellone’s action. --Rick Brand

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