One of the diciest propositions any elected official has to consider is a vote to increase his or her salary. No one wants to be seen as greedy. So they take great pains to explain why they are worth the extra money, knowing they will be judged by voters in the next election cycle. That's the way it should be. The latest chapter in this dance is playing out now in the Town of North Hempstead and, frankly, it smells.
Interim Supervisor John Riordan -- the town attorney appointed to fill the gap between the September resignation of Jon Kaiman and the January swearing-in of Judi Bosworth, who won the seat on Election Day -- has proposed raises for town elected officials. They range from 3.8 percent for the supervisor to a whopping 37.5 percent for town board members. There are reasonable arguments for giving some kind of raises. Town board members receive the same salary ($40,000 for part-time work) they got in 1989. No elected official has received a raise since 2005. The merit of the raises is not so much the problem; it's the process that's troubling. Consider the peculiar timing.
The proposal came too late to be included in the budget process, but likely will be acted on before Bosworth takes office, insulating her from criticism. Riordan defends it by citing his objectivity -- he wasn't elected, and will not benefit personally. But that's the problem: accountability. Someone who answers to voters should submit a proposal to increase salaries and someone who will benefit in a few weeks should vote on it. Another problem: With the 2014 budget already approved, money for the raises (a modest $140,000 in total) would come from the town's contingency fund. Those funds are used to cover unforeseen expenses, not salary increases for elected officials.
The town board should wait for Bosworth to take office, then consider salary increases as part of its next budget.