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Get serious on payout proposal

The exterior of the Theodore Roosevelt Executive &

The exterior of the Theodore Roosevelt Executive & Legislative Building in Mineola, at sunset, on Nov. 20, 2013. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Stung by public anger over the recent revelation that Nassau County’s political appointees get huge payouts for unused sick and vacation time when they leave, lawmakers have introduced a bill in the county legislature to limit the damage to taxpayers.

The plan by Legis. Denise Ford, a Long Beach Democrat who caucuses with the majority Republicans who control the chamber, does not go far enough, nor would it have a measurable effect fast enough.

When County Executive Edward Mangano left office after his second term at the end of 2017, many of his appointees left, too. Chief Deputy County Executive Rob Walker, who faces a federal corruption trial next year, walked with $139,644. In all, 75 employees cashed out for more than $2.5 million.

County law allows employees hired after Aug. 15, 2014, to be paid for a combined 250 unused days upon termination; those hired before that date can cash out 290. Ford’s bill would reduce the total number of cashout days to 125, and would apply only to employees hired after Oct. 1.

Ford wants to make sure the benefit, while smaller, still exists to attract qualified candidates to the county. But these jobs generally pay pretty well. They come with great health insurance, pensions and time off, and have qualified people clamoring for them.

What these termination payouts represent is a form of cash benefit rare in the private sector. Corporations might encourage people to leave by offering buyouts, or even termination packages to people who are laid off. But cashouts are available to county employees even if they simply quit, and they get paid for far too many days. Walker, for example, left with nine months’ pay after working just eight years for the county; that makes no sense.

For starters, employees should be able to keep days they’ve accrued under current rules. New employees should have total cashout days limited to perhaps a few weeks or a month. Any new law should stop any additional accrual of days for employees already over that new limit.

With Ford’s bill expected to be considered by the legislature’s rules committee on Sept. 12, there are lawmakers from both parties considering even stronger curbs on the payouts. County Executive Laura Curran hasn’t staked out a position, but ongoing contract negotiations with all the county’s unions make this a good time to stand firm on appointees.

As with the appointees, Nassau’s unionized workers can cash huge checks for unused sick and vacation pay. It’s not uncommon for police officers to have $500,000 paydays, entirely aside from their generous pensions. Public employees deserve a fair wage and retirement plan but the massive accural of time is no longer a sustainable practice. If Curran wants to make headway with the county’s thousands of union employees, she should start with asking a few hundred political appointees to accept a new reality.

Sick days let an employee take off when sick. Vacation days help workers recharge and rest. Incentivizing appointees to work when sick and never take vacations by providing huge cash payouts on the way out the door is a counterproductive policy that the county can’t afford.

— The editorial board