Smithtown officials will contract with former Suffolk County civil service chief Alan Schneider to advise the town council on personnel matters and possible consolidation of departments, Supervisor Edward Wehrheim said.
Schneider would be paid $90 per hour for work that could start in coming months as Wehrheim prepares the town budget, assisting on possible new hires and requests from staffers for upgrades to civil service titles.
Schneider could also consult on “the feasibility of consolidating departments and using commissioner titles,” Wehrheim said. That work would not start until next year and would only proceed with Town Council support, he said.
Consolidation could involve creation of a Public Works Department responsible for work now undertaken separately by the Highway and Parks, Buildings and Grounds departments, streamlining what Wehrheim said is a sometimes ungainly system.
“The way we operate now, if the Highway Department does work for Parks, they bill them,” he said. Consolidation would allow a commissioner to deploy staffers more efficiently than at present, Wehrheim said, such as shifting workers to Parks duties in the spring and summer after winter snow removal is finished. “We can’t do that now. We can’t mix budget lines,” he said.
Consolidation could mean fewer town workers in the future as employees retire. “You may not have to continue to replace all those people,” Wehrheim said.
Smithtown park maintenance director Joseph Arico and Highway Superintendent Robert Murphy said the idea showed promise. “It does work,” said Murphy, who said the towns of Babylon and Islip have successfully implemented similar changes. Smithtown could save taxpayer money by reducing clerical work and handling more jobs in-house, he said, though he was skeptical about workforce reductions. “Man hours for the last couple years have been reduced so much, we’re looking to get some back,” he said, citing a loss of roughly 20 employees through attrition in recent years.
Christopher Downer, president of Smithtown CSEA 8757, which represents most of the town’s rank-and-file workers, said consolidation would be a mistake.
“It is a waste of town resources to train workers from a different department to do a job that is already skillfully being done by workers who are already there,” Downer said in a statement released by a union representative. “Also, a smaller workforce is in no way beneficial to town residents, it will only lead to a reduction in the quality of service that the people of Smithtown have grown to enjoy.”
Schneider, a 36-year county veteran, resigned his county position in February under pressure from County Executive Steve Bellone, who did not reappoint Schneider when his term expired that month and named Joanne Taormina acting county personnel director.
Schneider won a temporary court order to block his removal but stepped down after Bellone said he intended to hire outside lawyers to probe what his spokesman said in March was a “personnel issue in civil service,” without providing details. Without mentioning Schneider by name, county attorney Dennis Brown that month asked for authorization to hire a Manhattan-based law firm for an “employment-related investigation into discrimination,” Newsday has previously reported.
Schneider could not be reached for comment. Bellone spokesman Jason Elan did not respond to a request for comment.
Schneider contracted with Babylon Town in May, also at a $90 per hour rate, to help build a town civil service office that would operate independently from the county’s. Babylon Town Supervisor Richard Schaffer said at the time he had no concerns about the county’s probe of Schneider, whom he called “a very principled administrator.”
Wehrheim said he was unaware of an investigation but that “we will have a vetting process” before Schneider does any work for the town.