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New civil service chief takes office amid controversy

Critics questioned the legality of the appointment and Alan Schneider's removal, saying lawmakers need to confirm his replacement.

Alan Schneider, personnel director of Suffolk's civil service

Alan Schneider, personnel director of Suffolk's civil service department, oversees 47,500 civil service appointments and more than 200 local governments throughout Suffolk. Photo Credit: David Pokress

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s choice for civil service boss was sworn in Tuesday and began work in Hauppauge, but critics questioned the legality of her appointment and the ouster of 35-year county veteran Alan Schneider, who was removed from his office late Friday.

Bellone gave the oath of office to Jo-Anne Taormina, and a notarized card attesting to it was sent to County Clerk Judith Pascale, said Jason Elan, Bellone spokesman. He added that Taormina started immediately on the payroll in the $163,699  job, which is less than what Schneider made, but he acknowledged she still needs confirmation from the Suffolk Legislature.

Taormina along with Bellone’s chief deputy Dennis Cohen, other deputies Lisa Black and John Kaiman and Director of Performance Management Barry Paul, who has been reassigned to help Taormina, met with department staff to discuss operations.

Elan also said state civil service officials have ““concurred that her experience has met county specifications” for personnel officer. A state Civil Service spokeswoman declined to comment Tuesday night.

“Obviously I disapprove of the of the way the process has played out,” said Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague). “We’ve had our attorney look into it and our reading is that the proper procedure was not followed.” He said Public Officers Law Section Five states “someone appointed with a term cannot be replaced until the appointment of a qualified person is confirmed” by the county legislature.

Bellone ousted Schneider Friday after telling him earlier this month that he would not re-appoint him to another six-year term. Bellone gave no reason, saying it was a personnel matter.  

Supervisors from all 10 Suffolk towns urged Bellone to reconsider, calling Schneider a proven professional and  also saying he should remain until a national search could be done.

Gregory called Bellone’s action “an unnecessary politicizing” of the process by trying to circumvent the legislature. “He has a right to appoint whoever he wants,” said Gregory. “But he does not have a right to his own process.”

Republican Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr. was also highly critical. “He is not only steamrolling the independence of Civil Service, he is basically relegating the county legislature to the role of a door mat,” said Kennedy,  a GOP contender for county executive. He also said he is reviewing whether or not Taormina can legally be paid.

Attorneys for Babylon, Islip and Brookhaven held a conference call to discuss legal options late Tuesday afternoon. “I’m extremely concerned about the integrity of the civil service system,” said Richard Schaffer, Babylon supervisor, head of the town supervisors association.  “There are 47,000 jobs in the system and the legitimacy of all appointments and upgradings are at risk.”

The clash is just the latest in an ongoing series between Schaffer and Bellone.

Gregory also circulated a protest letter seeking signatures of all 17 lawmakers. So far, seven lawmakers have signed the letter, but four are undecided including Rob Calarco, Gregory’s deputy and Kara Hahn, majority leader,  who say they want more information. Gregory’s office has yet to connect with six others.  

Legis. Tom Cilmi, leader of the GOP caucus, said he has agreed to sign Gregory’s letter. “It seems against the law and I’m happy the presiding officer is calling him [Bellone] out on this.” He added: “If only he had been this quick to fire Jimmy Burke, or Don Rodgers,” referring to Burke, Suffolk ex-police chief and Rodgers former information technology commissioner, both of whom plead guilty to corruption charges.

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