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Thomas McCarthy, Smithtown councilman, casts deciding vote on his $30,000 raise

Councilman Thomas J. McCarthy listens to the Smithtown

Councilman Thomas J. McCarthy listens to the Smithtown Town Board during a meeting on the evening of Feb. 27, 2014. He cast the deciding vote to give himself a $30,000 raise in his role as deputy town supervisor -- a 600 percent increase. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Smithtown Town Councilman Thomas McCarthy cast the deciding vote to give himself a $30,000 raise in the stipend he receives as deputy town supervisor -- a 600 percent increase.

Town board members voted 3-2 to increase McCarthy's annual stipend from $5,000 to $35,000. McCarthy will receive the stipend in addition to his $55,818 salary, according to the 2014 town budget.

McCarthy, who has served on the town board since 1998 and has been deputy supervisor since 2008, said Thursday he didn't see a conflict of interest in his vote.

"Every year we have a preliminary budget we vote for and a permanent budget that we vote for that has all elected officials' salaries in there," he said. "If you vote for yourself once every year, to vote for yourself a different time, I don't see it as a conflict."

McCarthy, a former car dealership owner, also said he has increased town duties related to new economic development initiatives and other issues.

"In the past the deputy supervisor was just a token position to chair meetings when [the supervisor] wasn't available," he said. "When I was appointed deputy supervisor the first year, I didn't even take the stipend."

Smithtown's ethics code prohibits officials from engaging in acts that give the "appearance of conflict with the performance of the official's or employee's duties."

Steven L. Sarisohn, an attorney and member of the town's ethics board, declined to discuss the vote, saying the board does not comment on issues that are or may be presented to it. Smithtown Town Attorney Matthew Jakubowski also wouldn't comment other than to say he had discussed the issue with McCarthy.

Town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio declined to comment about McCarthy voting on his own raise.

Vecchio and Councilwoman Lynne C. Nowick voted in favor of the increase at last week's board meeting, with Councilmen Edward Wehrheim and Robert Creighton voting against it.

Wehrheim said in an interview that the increase in McCarthy's stipend should have been addressed after the 2015 tentative budget is presented early next month.

"I believe we should make that assessment as to how much taxes we're going to have to levy on the public, what we're going to have to do budget-wise to stay within the tax cap, before we begin to dole out pay raises to elected officials," Wehrheim said.

Creighton said, "I don't believe that anybody is entitled to a $30,000 raise, period."

 

'A slap in the face'

Pat Biancaniello, a former councilwoman, called the vote an "outrage" and said at the meeting that the public had no advance notice of it.

"It's a slap in the face to people who work in this town, who are paying taxes, that their voices . . . were not heard in this," said Biancaniello, who runs the SmithtownMatters.com news website. "For three of you to push this forward, it's the reason why people don't want to get involved in politics."

Vecchio said the resolution was put on an agenda on the town's website and called the criticism "a tempest in a teapot."

Vecchio sought the increase for McCarthy in an Aug. 1 memo to town board members. He cited McCarthy's help with "new demands" and "with the workload increasing as town government becomes more involved and difficult."

He wrote that McCarthy "has been a steady and resourceful hand in accomplishing his role as Deputy" and cited his taking over as acting supervisor after Vecchio's and Nowick's seats were temporarily vacated in February for failing to sign their oaths of office within 30 days of taking office.

McCarthy will collect a prorated stipend of about $8,800 through the end of the year, Vecchio said. The total $35,000 will be added to next year's budget.

Biancaniello said Thursday she asked the town board of ethics to launch an inquiry into whether McCarthy voting on a raise for himself represented a conflict of interest.

Nowick said, "In most towns the deputy supervisor certainly makes more money than in Smithtown."

 

Others' salaries, stipends

Huntington Deputy Supervisor Patricia Del Col is a full-time salaried employee who makes $154,093 but does not receive a stipend, said town spokesman A.J. Carter.

Babylon and Brookhaven have deputy supervisors who also serve on the town board.

Tony Martinez receives a $55,900 salary as a Babylon Town councilman and annual stipend of $20,000, said town spokesman Kevin Bonner. Stipend increases for various positions are set in resolutions on which "the entire board" can vote, he said.

In Brookhaven, Daniel Panico receives a $67,986 council salary and a stipend of $42,014, said spokesman Jack Krieger. The deputy supervisor's compensation is included in the yearly budget, he said.

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, a nonpartisan government watchdog organization, said of McCarthy's voting: "It's completely improper to vote on anything in which you have that clear of a self-interest."

Lawrence Levy, executive dean at the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, also said McCarthy should have recused himself.

"Appearances count in politics and government," Levy said. "Paying attention to them is a good way to avoid increasing already too high public cynicism."

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