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Editorial: Suffolk police commish's double-dip a silly black eye

Newly-appointed Suffolk County Police Commissioner Edward Webber during

Newly-appointed Suffolk County Police Commissioner Edward Webber during an interview in his office at police headquarters in Yaphank. (July 25, 2012) Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

The selection of Edward Webber as Suffolk County police commissioner made a certain sense, thanks to his intimate knowledge of police budget issues. But in recent weeks, the mess over his "retirement" surrounds him with an unfortunate Keystone Kops aura.

To be clear: There is nothing illegal about his "double-dipping" -- taking a pension from his former job as a chief of support services, plus his salary as the new commissioner: for a total north of $300,000. It's worth noting that his chief's salary was about $27,000 more than the commissioner's. With private-sector pensions declining, Webber's arrangement is a sensitive subject.

In short, it wasn't improper, but in the execution, it's been almost comical.

Webber himself has to take some of the blame for the confusion. Unaccountably, before taking the oath of office as police commissioner, he failed to retire from his position as chief of support services, the job title he still had, while serving as acting commissioner. To clear things up, the county attorney, Dennis Cohen, wrote to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to ask for an opinion on Webber's effective start date as commissioner. He took the oath of office on Sept. 5, but County Executive Steve Bellone later sent a letter to the county clerk, saying that Webber didn't really start as commissioner until Oct. 9.

Confused yet?

It's unclear why Webber didn't retire before taking the oath of office. But Bellone should have told the county legislature about the double-dip before the confirmation vote. It's Bellone's position that he assumed Webber would retire and that lawmakers should have known that he'd double-dip. That was a mistake.

With less assuming and more transparency, perhaps there would have been less confusion. If this mix-up ends up cutting Webber's compensation -- and that may be up to DiNapoli -- he has nobody to blame but himself. Let's hope his fiscal acumen -- a key to his appointment -- turns out to be as strong as advertised, and that the double-dip fiasco is just a blip.