TODAY'S PAPER
39° Good Evening
39° Good Evening
OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

Can a new SOA contract get approval before Thanksgiving?

A Nassau County Police Department patch during a

A Nassau County Police Department patch during a Nassau County Police Department graduation ceremony in Garden City on Nov. 19, 2015. Credit: Barry Sloan

Thanksgiving could come a few days early for members of Nassau County’s Superior Officers Association. But for County Executive Laura Curran, there are no guarantees.

The SOA reached an agreement on a new 8½-year contract with Curran that was ratified by members in September. It follows along the lines of the detectives’ contract. But the detectives’ deal was approved by the county legislature in December 2019, three months before COVID-19 crushed sales tax receipts and five months before George Floyd died at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

The SOA deal could be approved at the Nassau County Legislature’s Monday meeting. Curran has asked that it be approved on an emergency basis, which bypasses the committee process.

But before an emergency vote can take place, a supermajority of 13 lawmakers must agree on the process. Curran, however, due to defections from her own party, may lack the support she needs.

Minority leader Kevan Abrahams and fellow Democrats Carrié Solages and Siela Bynoe have stepped out in opposition, asking that the contract not be approved until the county has passed a policing reform plan pursuant to an executive order Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued after Floyd’s death. It mandates that municipalities in the state with a police force come up with a plan to address concerns about aggressive policing of minority communities.

In a Thursday letter to Curran, Abrahams, Bynoe and Solages wrote that the "effort to fast-track this agreement is clearly premature and would lock the County into a CBA [collective bargaining agreement] which makes no provision for the execution of a reform plan which has yet to be presented."

The three say that Nassau County policing policies often are contractual, and as evidence point to a 2014 pilot body camera program that never got off the ground because of contractual restrictions. The lawmakers also point to the inclusion of a $300-a-month stipend for SOA members who wear body cams in the proposed contract.

In response, officials in Curran’s administration argue that police reforms are and have been moving forward, and point to the department’s handling of protests over the summer that they feel was responsible, sensitive and commendable.

The proposed deal is getting good reviews from everyone involved, but the support of NIFA, the state control board overseeing the county’s finances, comes with a caveat: The county can’t afford the new contract unless it refinances more than $350 million in debt.

And Republicans, led by Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello, who appear ready to back Curran Monday on the SOA contract, have fought her on the refinancing. They say with sales tax rebounding and the possibility of a federal bailout, the money may not be needed. Curran says the county is looking at a multiyear $750 million operating deficit, and NIFA agrees.

Friday morning, NIFA held a call with Curran and legislative leaders from both parties and laid down the law: it won’t approve the contract at its Tuesday meeting unless the legislature approves the declaration of need necessary to approve the refinancing.

NIFA says that unless the refinancing happens, a large tax increase or massive layoffs are the only ways to balance the books.

And all of this comes with less than a year left before Curran and the legislators stand for reelection, with the police unions expected to be a huge player in those races. The PBA, the county’s largest police union, is edging closer to a bargaining agreement that is largely dependent on approval of the SOA contract. The unions are supporting the emergency vote but that means they must support Curran on the borrowing when they’ve rarely seen eye to eye with her on anything else.

If the deal is not approved Monday, it could be okayed in December through the usual committee process.

But for this week, one side is going to be giving thanks, leaving the other side likely looking like turkeys.

Columns