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Suffolk planning chief Sarah Lansdale suspended without pay

Sarah Lansdale, planning director for the Suffolk County

Sarah Lansdale, planning director for the Suffolk County Planning Commission, and David Calone, chairman of the commission, present during a Long Island Regional Planning Council meeting in Hauppauge Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015. Credit: Barry Sloan

Suffolk Planning Director Sarah Lansdale was suspended without pay for two weeks from her $144,620-a-year post because she failed to properly follow county payroll procedures involving compensatory time of employees who reported to her.

The suspension — the first ever imposed on a division or department head since County Executive Steve Bellone took office in 2012 — cost Lansdale $5,562 in pay from July 30 until Aug. 12.

Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider emphasized that Lansdale, who is as an exempt employee does not receive compensatory time off, did not personally benefit from the practices she adopted.

Schneider also said there was no indication that any of the dozen employees involved were improperly paid or given time off that they did not earn. Lansdale declined to comment.

Lansdale’s suspension came shortly after Suffolk Comptroller John Kennedy, on July 15 initiated a payroll audit of the department of economic development and planning, which has 86 employees. Lansdale oversees and approves time sheets for 23 of those workers.

The comptroller said his audit wasn’t connected to Lansdale’s suspension.

Kennedy’s audit also began a day after former Economic Development Commissioner and Deputy County Executive Joanne Minieri left her county job. Kennedy declined to comment when asked whether the audit was connected to Minieri’s exit from county government.

Schneider said Lansdale, in a meeting with planning employees in 2012, developed an informal system to staff after-hours meetings to support various meetings of county commissions and agencies without incurring overtime costs. Under that system, which continued until last month, the workers personally kept track of hours as well as time they took off, Schneider said.

However, Schneider said long-standing county administration policies, dating back to 1980, require that all such extra hours as well as time taken off be listed on county time sheets.

“Sarah is an exemplary employee, who was trying to save taxpayers dollars while providing full staffing,” said Schneider. “While we take this paperwork issue seriously, it does not reflect on Sarah’s outstanding performance and we retain full confidence in her.”

In light of the issue, Chief Deputy County Executive Dennis Cohen, in a meeting with all department heads on July 28, reminded commissioners of existing county procedures.

Schneider also said the executive office will institute training within several weeks to make sure existing procedures are followed. However, he said there are no plans to review past practices of other departments to determine if there have been other lapses.

Schneider said the practice only came to light last month when Lansdale described her system to Theresa Ward, the acting commissioner of economic development and planning, who was Minieri’s deputy and is temporarily in charge since Minieri’s departure last month to pursue opportunities in the private sector.

Ward brought the issue to Cohen, who imposed the disciplinary action after meeting with Lansdale. Ward could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Dan Levler, president of the Association of Municipal Employees, said a dozen planning employees in his union were sent letters informing them on the proper procedures, but no penalties were imposed.

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