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Controversy over Martinez plan to keep school job

Suffolk legislative District 9 Democratic primary winner Monica

Suffolk legislative District 9 Democratic primary winner Monica Martinez outside her campaign office in Brentwood. (Sept. 11, 2013) Credit: Chuck Fadely

Monica Martinez, who won the Democratic primary in Suffolk's 9th Legislative District, has made no secret that she plans to continue as a Brentwood school administrator if she wins in November, which would give her annual public salaries totaling $213,000.

But a 2011 Suffolk local law and ethics legislation barring county elected officials from collecting on two government payrolls has created a controversy over her plans, which would put her joint pay above County Executive Steve Bellone's $187,000 annual salary.

The local law, passed unanimously, bars both countywide elected officials and county legislators from holding another paid position with the county or any department, office, commission, board, agency or public benefit corporation at the village, town, state or federal level.

The legislation's goal was to reduce "the real or perceived conflict of interest and the perception that elected officials are prospering by receiving pay checks from multiple government jobs in a time of national economic crisis."

The law's exceptions are for a teacher in a public school district or a professor at a public college or university.

The dispute over Martinez's plans concerns whether the exceptions apply to a school administrator. Martinez, 36, makes $117,000 a year as a middle school assistant principal. If elected, she would also make $96,570 a year as a county legislator.

Martinez said her plans comply with county laws. She wants to remain with the school district because education "has been my life's work." As a lawmaker, Martinez added, "I will definitely work hard to earn the money I make and I'll make sure the community gets what it deserves," she said.

Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said the legislature's counsel, George Nolan, during the original committee debate said the pay measure does not apply to school, fire or library districts.

The minutes of a 2011 Ways and Means Committee meeting show that Nolan at first said a lawmaker could not also be a school superintendent. But later he revised his opinion, saying the measure "does specifically address school districts or library districts." Then he added, "the law does not extend out to those districts."

Legis. Thomas Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma), sponsor of the dual pay ban, said that he never focused on school administrators in his original legislation, and that he did not intend to cover school, fire or library districts.

However, he added, "I don't think it's ethical" for a school administrator to also be a county lawmaker, and will discuss an amendment with the GOP caucus to bar them.

Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), the minority leader, said he served on the legislative committee that overhauled ethics rules and its intent was "crystal clear." He said, "School districts, by definition, are a subsidiary of New York State" and covered by law. "To categorize it any other way is pure nonsense and hogwash," he added.

County ethics rules make violations a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison and $1,000 fine.

Former legislative counsel Paul Sabatino said there's court precedent that says school districts are municipal corporations, and so are agencies of the state. "Why would you carve out an exemption for public school teachers, if school districts were not covered by the legislation? It just doesn't make sense."

Martinez's brother Tony, Babylon's deputy supervisor and former co-chair of the Bellone transition committee, said the pay attacks are politically motivated, claiming Republicans are trying to help their ally, Legis. Rick Montano (D-Brentwood), whom his sister defeated in this month's Democratic primary. Montano is still on the Working Families Party line in November; the GOP has no candidate.

"Should an educator be precluded from seeking the public good?" said Tony Martinez, who is helping run his sister's campaign. "This is an attempt to undermine a great candidate by a sore loser."

Montano said he has never raised the pay issue his campaign, but called it "a bit presumptious, since she hasn't won the election yet." He also noted that Tony Martinez earns a salary as a Babylon town board member and additional stipends as deputy supervisor and a liason to town industrial development agency. "Should his sister win, they will be on five public payrolls," Montano said.

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