Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone defended his choice for top cop Thursday while criticizing Newsday for reporting that Police Commissioner Edward Webber was poised to collect as much as $321,000 in salary and pension.
"We conducted an extensive search and, quite frankly, every candidate [was] a retired police official," he said at a news conference in Hauppauge. "Who else would we be getting but a retired police official?"
Bellone called a front-page article Thursday about the dual payments to Webber "offensive" and accused the newspaper of "cop bashing."
He added, "My message to Newsday: Stop bashing cops."
Newsday said in a statement, "We stand behind our coverage."
Webber, who became commissioner Aug. 24, had served as the department's chief of support services. Last Friday, Webber filed paperwork with the state to retroactively retire from the support services job. The move made Webber eligible to collect his county pension, which by his estimate could total about $158,000, while drawing his $162,760 commissioner's salary.
It is legal for Webber, 65, to take his full county salary and state pension, and he said he's only getting what he has earned. He also remains eligible for $306,600 in unused vacation and sick time accrued during his 39-year career, though he said he will not take the payment until he steps down as commissioner.
Bellone said he planned to resubmit Webber's name to the county legislature for confirmation so there is no "cloud" over Webber. Another confirmation is necessary to bring Webber back onto the county payroll, said Bellone spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter. The administration plans to submit Webber for confirmation as commissioner on Oct. 9, the day his retirement from the support services position takes effect, Baird-Streeter said.
Deputy Presiding Officer Wayne R. Horsley (D-Babylon), calling Webber "a great police officer," stood by the appointment. He added that the county will no longer have to contribute some $58,000 annually toward Webber's pension.
"The bottom line is that it ends up being less money being paid out by the county," Horsley said.
Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset) said that while he is "supportive" of Webber and would vote to reconfirm, he questioned the need for a second vote.
"What is this, a do-over?" Kennedy said. "It's mind-numbing."
Bellone, joined by Webber, left the news conference Thursday without answering questions from reporters.