Suffolk’s Schneider saga
SUFFOLK COUNTY—A standoff within the Suffolk County Legislature took a surprising turn earlier this week after Alan Schneider, Suffolk County’s top civil service official, resigned from his post just hours after being temporarily reinstated by a state judge.
The ordeal began last week when Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone removed Schneider, a 36-year county veteran, from his post and replaced him with Jo-Anne Taormina. The move quickly came under scrutiny from both sides of the political aisle.
Presiding officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague) said the Legislature was “deeply troubled” by the county executive’s decision.
“[Bellone’s] choice to replace Mr. Schneider, despite numerous concerns from officials within the county and support from every corner of county government on both sides of the aisle, is an attempt by the county executive to subvert the Legislature approval process and restrict our oversight,” Gregory wrote in an open letter, which was signed by eight other members of the Legislature.
The joint letter states the requirement that the personnel officer be nominated by the county executive and subject to legislative approval is set forth in both county and state Civil Service Law and Public Officers Law.
“The law authorizes public officers – who have fixed terms – to continue to discharge their duties in a holdover status until a successor is chosen and qualified,” Gregory wrote. “None of that has occurred. This legislative body will not sit idly by while appointments are made without our participation as required by law. If Mr. Schneider is to be replaced, there should be a national search for the most qualified individual and that individual needs to be vetted and confirmed by the Legislature, a co-equal branch of government, before he or she can assume the office.”
Al Krupski (D-Riverhead) and Tom Donnelly (D-Huntington Station) made up the letter’s Democratic signatures, while GOP minority leader Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore), Steve Flotteron (R-West Islip), Leslie Kennedy (R-Hauppauge), Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), Tom Muratore (R-Selden), and Rudy Sunderman (R-Mastic) made up the Republican signatures.
Deputy presiding officer Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) and majority leader Kara Hahn (D-Port Jefferson) were reportedly on the fence about whether to sign Gregory’s opposition letter. Neither legislators responded to request for comment by press time.
It was reported last week that attorneys from Islip, Brookhaven and Babylon townships held a conference call on the day that Taormina took office to discuss legal options regarding the move. Islip Town declined to comment on the issue.
Brookhaven and Babylon townships ultimately filed a temporary restraining order to keep Taormina, a former North Hempstead Town chief of staff, from her newly appointed $163,699-a-year job. Taormina’s salary is reported to be less than that of her predecessor. The towns took issue with Bellone’s move because the county’s top civil service officer oversees not just county jobs, but town, village, school, library and fire district jobs as well.
Babylon Town supervisor Rich Schaffer, who also serves as chairman of the Suffolk County Democratic Committee, has personally criticized the county executive’s decision. It’s not the first rift between the two, though. During last year’s election season, Bellone backed a last-minute candidate for Suffolk County’s surrogate judge. The move upended a judicial cross-endorsement deal that Schaffer had organized.
Suffolk County comptroller John Kennedy, who recently announced he would be running against Bellone for the top county job later this year, insisted that he wasn’t questioning the county executive’s authority to appoint someone new to the post. Kennedy did, however, say Bellone needs approval from lawmakers, according to section 15b of the state Civil Service Law.
The comptroller went on to describe Bellone’s move as another example of his administration’s “modus operandi.”
Cilmi said he supported Kennedy’s efforts, adding that Bellone’s actions were illegal. Cilmi agreed with the comptroller’s stance that Bellone had the right not to reappoint Schneider, but insisted the county executive needed approval from the county. He added, “more often than not,” the Legislature approves of the county executive’s picks.
Schneider reportedly wrote his resignation letter over the weekend, but decided to hold out to see how the court would rule.
Numerous attempts were made for a comment from Bellone’s office regarding his initial decision to replace Schneider and where the situation will go from here. County attorney Dennis Brown also didn’t respond to a request for comment during the weeklong ordeal.
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