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Suffolk legislature lifts residency rule for some Sini hires

Suffolk Police Commissioner and District Attorney-elect Timothy Sini

Suffolk Police Commissioner and District Attorney-elect Timothy Sini addresses the Suffolk Legislature Hauppauge Tuesday night, Dec. 19, 2017, about his request for employment waivers. Credit: David Schwartz

The Suffolk Legislature voted unanimously Tuesday night to lift a residency requirement for senior staff in the district attorney’s office, allowing incoming top prosecutor Tim Sini to expand his search outside the county to fill 70 top management positions.

However, the lawmakers kept residency rules in place for 120 lower-level assistant and senior assistant district attorneys.

The legislature’s vote came as Sini prepares to overhaul his staff in light of a corruption scandal that has tainted the district attorney’s office. Sini’s predecessor Thomas Spota resigned last month after he and his top corruption prosecutor, Christopher McPartland, were indicted for their alleged roles in a cover up after former Police Chief James Burke beat a man accused of stealing a duffel bag from his official SUV.

“What has become clear to me is that we need a significant turnover in terms of upper management,” Sini told the legislature at the meeting, noting that he has requested resignations from certain members of the 12 bureau chiefs, effective Jan. 1. “We’re at a critical juncture and I’m asking the legislature to expand the pool to include more talent and provide more diversity.”

County Executive Steve Bellone first filed an emergency resolution at noon Tuesday allowing Sini, who takes office Jan. 1, to lift the residency requirement for all 190 staff lawyers and 35 investigators.

However, Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague) and Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), expressed concerns about lifting residency rules for the 120 lower-level lawyers. Gregory and Hahn also wanted to keep residency rules for principal assistant district attorneys.

The residency waiver applies to the 35 investigator positions.

Later in the afternoon, Bellone filed a second version of the resolution that retained the residency requirement for assistant DAs and senior assistant DAs. At the legislative meeting, Sini said those principal assistants have significant supervisory roles, even if their civil service job descriptions do not list management responsibilities.

“There is something to be said for government being run by people living in the jurisdiction and paying taxes here,” Hahn said later, but adding she appreciated Sini’s willingness to participate in the “legislative give and take.”

Sini said the compromise measure is workable and he does not intend “to create an office that all of a sudden is non-Suffolk.”

However, he said the residency rules would have put him at a “gross disadvantage” in attracting highly qualified applicants and he wants to be able to “to grab the talent” in other prosecutors’ office to serve Suffolk residents.

In another pair of last-minute emergency resolutions introduced Tuesday night, lawmakers approved borrowing and appropriating $22.75 million for health care centers in Wyandanch and Patchogue.

Deputy County Executive Jon Kaiman said it was necessary to lock in state grants — $8 million in state grants for the planned Wyandanch location, and $8.75 million in state money for the existing Patchogue building.

He said with state budget uncertainties, they wanted to lock in the money now, and bond payments would cost less than rent. Five Republicans voted against the bill, saying it was being rushed at the last minute and protesting that the buildings will eventually be given to contractor Hudson River Healthcare.

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