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Editorial: Martinez must decide: legislator or teacher?

Newly-elected Suffolk County Legislator Monica Martinez, of the

Newly-elected Suffolk County Legislator Monica Martinez, of the 9th Legislative District, greets a constituent at the General Consulate of El Salvador in Brentwood, N.Y. (Nov. 7, 2013) Credit: Andy Jacobsohn

Newly elected Suffolk County Legis. Monica Martinez will have a tough decision to make once she's sworn in next month: should she attend legislative committee meetings, which are held on weekday mornings and early afternoons, or should she skip them to do her job at East Middle School in Brentwood, where she is an assistant principal?

Much has been made of the fact that Martinez makes $117,000 per year at her school district job and will earn $98,260 as a legislator, and that is galling, but what's more troubling is the likelihood that one job or the other will suffer as she attempts to meet the responsibilities of both.

Martinez ran for the legislature knowing Suffolk passed a law in 2011 saying elected county officials, with the exception of teachers in public schools or colleges, can't collect a salary from any other level of government. Last month, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone suggested the law be changed to widen the exemption to include all public school, library district and fire district employees.

That proposal quickly caused a backlash, and now Martinez says she doesn't need the new law because she is defined as a "teacher" by the state education code, and will ask for an opinion from the county Board of Ethics confirming this. She also says that if the board doesn't hand down a decision allowing her to keep both jobs (and paychecks) she will file a lawsuit challenging the county law as "unconstitutional and improperly written." She is going to be very busy indeed.

Regardless of the ethics board ruling, or what a court might decide about the law, the situation is untenable. Yes, the law should be changed, but not as Bellone suggested. Don't widen the double-dipping exemption: eliminate it altogether.

Martinez should pick one job and quit the other.

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