Suffolk County Treasurer Angie Carpenter blasted County Executive Steve Bellone using sharp language Tuesday not heard since these two politicians ran against each other for the county’s top job two years ago.
Carpenter said Bellone has shown “general contempt for good government legislation that was written to protect Suffolk County from being hijacked by partisan political hacks” and “silencing opposition to his fiscal irresponsibility.”
The campaign between Carpenter, a Republican, and Bellone, a Democrat, was tame by comparison.
“County Executive Steve Bellone obviously doesn’t seem to understand what the terms ‘good government’ and ‘will of the people mean,’” Carpenter said in a statement released before she appeared a public hearing of the Suffolk County Legislature.
At issue were a pair of resolutions from the county executive’s office that were on the agenda this week. One would “throw residency requirements for Suffolk County employees out the window,” Carpenter claims, and another would “permit the dissolution of any elected position in county government at any point during their term,” as she put it, which she rightly said was directed at eliminating her position as county treasurer.
A third measure that also drew Carpenter’s criticism would have allowed Legis.-elect Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), who is currently an assistant principal at a Brentwood Middle School, to hold both public posts despite a county law against double dipping. But late last week Martinez asked the Bellone administration to withdraw the resolution on her behalf.
Instead, Martinez said she is seeking a ruling from Suffolk’s ethics board, believing that the panel will say that she’ll be allowed to keep both jobs, earning a total of $215,000 annually and drawing two pensions. Carpenter, a former legislator before she was elected treasurer, said she is seeking a ruling from the county attorney on what she called Martinez’s illegal attempt to double-dip.
“As Suffolk County Treasurer, I have a fiduciary responsibility to speak out when I see situations that raise red flags and present the potential to have an injurious effect on the county’s financial well being,” said Carpenter in a press statement sent out before she appeared at the public hearing. “Double dipping by a Suffolk County elected public official would definitely fall into a red flag category.”
At the legislature, she added: “I’m not going to put my signature on a paycheck that conflicts with the law.”
Earlier this year, Bellone had wanted a referendum to appear on the Nov. 5 ballot that he said would annually save the county $1 million by eliminating the treasurer position and merging it with the comptroller’s office. Of the 62 counties in New York State, Suffolk is the only one to have both an independently elected treasurer and a comptroller.
Carpenter had filed a suit to block the ballot measure after the county legislature this summer approved the measure to appear on ballots. In October, the New York State Court of Appeals upheld lower court rulings against the referendum. Carpenter won re-election in November to her third term.
Bellone, in a statement at the time, said the court’s decision was “outrageous” because it deprived voters of the chance to weigh in on what he said was an innovative cost-saving measure. Carpenter told the Press that Bellone’s economic justification of the merger was “bogus.”
Asked to respond to Carpenter’s charges yesterday, Suffolk Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said: “The treasurer will say and do anything to stop the people from having the opportunity to vote on whether or not to merge the offices of comptroller and treasurer and save a million dollars.”
He said the Bellone administration fully intends to put a revised measure to consolidate the two departments on the 2014 ballot.
“This is not personal,” Schneider insisted. “Frankly, what the treasurer could do is spend a little less time fighting us, and either work with us on how we can implement that [consolidation] or make that case to the voters for why Suffolk County should be the only county in New York State that needs these as two independently elected positions.”
Carpenter’s spokesman, Rob Ryan, told the Press why Carpenter opposed changing the residency requirement. “There’s a couple of people on Bellone’s payroll who live in Brooklyn,” Ryan said. “Angie sort of feels that there’s enough people in Suffolk County who can probably fit the bill. This is not for a head of department. It’s for lower positions.”
Schneider declined to comment on that charge but he did say: “She’s looking out for herself and a couple of patronage jobs she controls.”
In justifying the need for her role as another independent fiscal watchdog in the county, Carpenter also took special aim at Bellone’s previous tenure as Babylon town supervisor by citing the findings of the recent municipal audit of that town conducted by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, a Democrat, that she said were “disturbing.”
“The [Babylon Town] Board has not taken appropriate actions to maintain the general fund’s sound financial condition,” the audit found. “From 2008 through 2011, the general fund’s unexpended surplus fund balance decreased from a surplus of $6.1 million to a deficit of $10.5 million. This decline resulted from adopting budgets that were not structurally sound and using temporary loans to purchase investment properties held for resale.”
The audit also noted that Babylon “has not adopted a comprehensive computer-use policy, a breach notification policy, or a formal disaster recovery plan.”
Babylon Town officials, given a chance to respond to the audit, disagreed with the report’s findings and recommendations.
The deputy county executive said the country treasurer was confusing her role with what Suffolk Comptroller Joseph Sawicki does.
“I don’t think she generally understands her job,” Schneider said. “The comptroller is responsible for auditing the government. Not the treasurer. She literally has a ministerial role… It’s her job to cut checks. That’s why this merger works.”
He said that the Bellone administration’s proposal would create a chief financial officer and “that we agree that person should be an independently elected official.”
“Our position is very simple,” Schneider said. “We trust in the voters to make the right decision and she doesn’t.”