Elected Officials Should Follow Riverhead's Lead
Apparently, we're not the only ones who, in these times of economic upheaval, believe that elected officials voting themselves hefty pay increases is a bad idea.
It's not only, as we've blogged, the wrong message at the wrong time, but for anyone who may be out of work, facing foreclosure, or has seen her 401K shrink down to a 201K, it's a "what were they thinking" moment.
Hempstead Town officials should backtrack, rescinding pay increases across the board. It's the right thing to do, and they know it.
Likewise, Peter Schmitt and his colleagues on the Nassau County Legislature should abandon efforts to hike their own pay. A revote on this very issue has been postponed to February 22.
If on nothing else, from liberal-leaning Democrats to right-wing Tea Baggers, the man and woman on the street agree that this is no time for our elected officials to give themselves raises. You ask us to share the pain of cutbacks, layoffs, hiring freezes, and reductions in everything from aid to our schools to LIRR service. Now comes the time for you to share in our pain.
Serve others, before you serve yourselves. Legislate for the public good, then compensate. Make your money the old-fashioned way -- earn it!
Conscience is rarely a word that comes to mind in politics. Perhaps the time has come for our elected officials to grow one, if not collectively, then individually.
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Time for pols to do the right thing on raises
by JOYE BROWN / email@example.com
Give Riverhead Town's newly elected supervisor a hand.
He's got the right idea for digging in to lead by example during these hard economic times.
Not only did the town forgo any raises this year for its town board members, supervisor and department heads, Supervisor Sean M. Walter took the notion of "shared sacrifice" even further.
If department heads want a raise in the next two years - absent a miraculous economic recovery, that is - they'll have to stand and justify the request publicly before the town board, he said Wednesday.
And Walter didn't stop there: He also agreed to voluntarily reimburse the town 25 percent of his no-contribution health care coverage. That's right, voluntarily.
"It's not pretty out there for anybody in this recession and you have to lead by example," Walter said in an interview.
"Our major focus is going to be jobs, jobs and even more jobs, because we have to put our neighbors back to work," he said.
Walter's stance on his health care premium sets him apart from the top elected officials of every other town and city whom I talked to Wednesday.
Still, many of them had the right idea about freezing salaries.
Officials from the towns of Huntington, Islip, North Hempstead, Brookhaven, Riverhead, East Hampton, Shelter Island, Smithtown and Southampton and the cities of Glen Cove and Long Beach said they froze salaries of elected officials this year.
"I've had to lay people off," said Phil Nolan, Islip Town supervisor, who has not had a raise since he took office. "There's no way to raise salaries of elected officials when you've had to lay people off."
In Huntington, elected officials were supposed to receive an automatic cost-of-living increase.
"We took a look at what was happening and froze salaries for elected and appointed positions," said Supervisor Frank Petrone. The town also imposed a hiring freeze.
Giving themselves raises is what sets officials in the towns of Hempstead, Oyster Bay and Babylon apart from the rest. The raises they adopted are hanging out there - alone.
Mike Deery, a spokesman for the Town of Hempstead, which hiked salaries of elected and appointed officials, put up a good fight supporting the raises. (Deery got a raise to $165,395, by the way). The raises, which he said were in line with union contract employee raises, including merit, brought him and two other appointed town officials to salaries higher than the town supervisor, Kate Murray.
The town runs well, he said.
The elected officials work especially hard, he said.
The town's budget is the best it's been in years, he said.
The same arguments could be made for Oyster Bay and Babylon. But such arguments don't - and shouldn't - work these days. Not when the unemployment rate on Long Island is 7 percent - 7 percent in Hempstead; 6.1 percent in Oyster Bay; and 7.8 percent in Babylon - according to December figures from the state labor department.
And not when eight Long Islanders begin the foreclosure process for every 10 houses sold, according to fourth-quarter figures from the Long Island Real Estate Report in East Islip.
Those same figures show that 1.10 homes began the foreclosure process - called lis pendens - for every one sold in Babylon. For Hempstead, the ratio was 0.80 to 1; and for Oyster Bay, it was 0.43 to 1.
Do the math. And then translate those numbers into the local families taking brutal economic hits of a sort most of us have never encountered in our lifetimes.
It's essential that the leaders of every taxing entity on Long Island - from school district superintendents to garbage district supervisors - step up and lead by example. Yes, that means taking some share of the pain.
To Hempstead, Oyster Bay and Babylon officials, the message is simple: Give back those raises.
It doesn't take a genius to know that Long Islanders can't - and shouldn't have to - keep digging deeper and deeper into shallow pockets.
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From Roll Back The Raises Campaign:
Long Island, NY— On February 2, The Roll Back the Raises (RBR) Campaign organized at the Hempstead Town Hall to rally against “illegal pay raise” Supervisor Kate Murray (R) and the town board gave themselves. The rally came off the successful efforts by the RBR campaigners (along with other organizations, and elected officials) to get Nassau County Legislator Peter Schmidt (R) to rescind his self-given pay raise. This time the campaigners directed their efforts towards Supervisor Kate Murray (R) and the town board to rescind their self-given raises. The Roll Back the Raise Campaigners were also joined by local Democratic groups, Tea Party clubs, civic groups, and community residents.
To combat the town raises the RBR campaigners formed to prevent the pay raises, and to fight for a referendum question on the November ballot. The referendum question would allow voters the opportunity to approve or disapprove the towns pay raises.
“At this time of great financial suffering exceeded only by the great depression the public needs our representative to cut spending and lower taxes. Giving themselves a pay increase while many lose their homes and jobs is a slap in the face.” said Derek Donnelly RBR, Merrick resident and Campaign Organizer. “The Town of Hempstead did publish a public notice, unfortunately the town failed to provide its residents with a proper, and legally accurate public notice.” ”We are here to notify the town of its mistake, and call for them to rescind their illegal pay raises.”
The campaigners served the town with legal notice on January 29th as to the legal defects in the public notices.
“The raises are considered illegal because State law is very specific in requiring that the public be given notice of their right to call for a referendum to oppose the kind of self dealing by which public officials increase their own salaries,” said Henry Boitel, a Rockville Centre resident and an RBR Campaign Organizer. “The Town Council and Supervisor sought to evade that notice requirement by passing resolutions in the twilight of their existing terms and after they knew they had been re-elected to new terms.” “They were clearly voting on their own salaries on December 15th, in the midst of the December holidays.” “The legally required notice was not published until 8 days later, on December 23,”
Boitel continued. “To the extent that they did give notice, they misquoted the notice provision so as to omit the very notice the law requires. The notice gave no indication that it relates to a salary increase or the amount of that increase, thus failing to give notice of ‘purpose and effect’ that the law requires.”
The campaigners sought to get a copy of the statute, and were told they would have to file a written application to see it, and would have to wait at least five days.
“During the period 2006-2010, town officials gave themselves approximately 30 percent pay increases,” said Bob Young, Bellmore Resident, and RBR Campaign Organizer. “It is egregious that the town would give themselves raises in a time of economic hardship for some many residents.” “We are here today to demand that the town cancel their recent pay raises at once.”
The Town of Hempstead has a population close to one million people, making it America's largest township.
Roll Back the Raises Campaign is a nonpartisan effort. Its campaigners are members from the community and community groups that are standing together for a common cause. That cause is lowering taxes and shining sunlight when elected leaders give themselves pay raises.