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Steve Bellone’s veto of borrowing bill survives override bid

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone in January.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone in January. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Suffolk County Legislature, reversing positions, failed to override County Executive Steve Bellone’s veto of a bill to give Comptroller John Kennedy the ability to negotiate sales of up to $565 million in short-term cash flow borrowing to react to volatile markets.

The borrowing measure, approved on a 12-6 vote in December, fell two votes short of the needed two-thirds majority for an override when Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport) and Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood) switched sides.

Also Tuesday, lawmakers unanimously approved a measure requiring the county to detail the number of sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits, complaints and settlements since 2015 and track the statistics in the future.

Bellone, a Democrat, had vetoed the bill borrowing sought by Kennedy, a Republican, and lobbied lawmakers to block an override.

Bellone said the legislation would eliminate one of the checks and balances in Suffolk’s procurement system. Kennedy currently needs a waiver from a county committee to negotiate the borrowing.

After the vote, Kennedy said, “Even a village idiot could decipher the politics. If this was a different comptroller with a different [party] registration, the law would already be filed.”

Richard Tortora, Suffolk’s outside fiscal adviser, said recent market swings have increased the need to give the comptroller flexibility to move fast to get the best deal and make sure all notes are sold.

Tortora said he was most concerned about the year end period, when Suffolk must sell $410 million in tax anticipation notes at a time when demand can be slack. Tortora said shifting market conditions could cost Suffolk as much a $800,000 in added costs.

But Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) said Kennedy’s past requests for waivers have always been approved and never impeded his efforts to negotiate a sale.

“We have an established process that works,” Calarco said.

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague) said the new measure would have increased transparency by requiring the comptroller to disclose details of the sale and how different proposals are rated — issues the waiver committee never considers.

Spencer said Kennedy has his full support but fears changing the process. “These changes would be in perpetuity,” Spencer said.

Martinez said she was “troubled” that all sides had not come to an agreement. She urged Bellone and Kennedy to come to a compromise within several weeks or she would reintroduce Kennedy’s bill herself.

The sexual harassment measure was aimed at combating sexual misconduct following widespread allegations of abuse in business, entertainment and government.

The resolution instructs the director of labor relations to provide lawmakers with statistics on the number, type and disposition of employee disciplinary proceedings involving sexual harassment or discrimination for 2015, 2016 and 2017.

The resolution also directs the Suffolk County attorney to provide statistics on sexual harassment and discrimination claims filed against the county in court or before other administrative bodies.

The county attorney also would have to provide data on the settlement or disposition of those claims, including dollar amounts and sources of settlement funds.

By the start of 2019, county attorney and labor relation officials on an annual basis would have to provide lawmakers with similar statistics, by Feb. 28 of each year.

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