Monday, January 31, 2011

816 Chickens Come Home to Roost

816 Chickens Come Home to Roost.

Nassau is the richest county in New York. Or the second richest, depending on whose figures you use. It also is in such bad shape that the state has taken over the running of its finances.

Its present form of government was instituted in 1938, and since that time, only two Democrats have served in the office of County Executive, for a total of 15 out of 73 years.

From ‘38 on, legislative functions at the county level were served part time by leaders of the county’s internal municipalities, also almost Republicans. The “Board of Supervisors” as it was called, fought tooth hammer and nail to retain its composition. But ultimately, the courts ruled that six members weren’t enough -- or constitutional and it was replaced by a 19 member legislature.

Not much changed except expenses grew. Nineteen guys with staff and offices and political campaigns and telephones and stationery, computers and fax machines.

Nassau has more Commissioners and assistant and deputy commissioners and other political appointees than a normal human being can count. All with staff and offices and telephones and stationery, computers, fax machines and heaven knows what duties, if any.

It has an antiquated labor system with extraordinarily generous contracts. Starting salary for a new cop is a little over 34-thousand dollars. But in eight years that can grow to more than 108-thousand, excluding overtime and promotions. In neighboring New York City, a starting cop earns a bit more, but eight years later, the money tops out at 78-thousand. Cop retirements come early in many cases, and the payouts are enough to live on.

Town-based sanitation workers are in about the same boat as the county police. So are many other town and county workers, everyone from prison guards to road crews.

And how do you get the (non police) jobs? First by passing a civil service exam, of minimum challenge. And then, by “knowing” “someone.”

This system has been in place for a century. It’s self perpetuating and now it’s shown as self defeating.

The present county executive is, naturally, a Republican. But by this time, party affiliation doesn’t matter. The county has been politics- battered since it gained independence from Queens in 1898.

Going on 113 years of patronage, wild spending, borrowing and the resulting high taxes, waste, corruption, trickery.

The influence of the hoards of city residents, then largely Democrats who turned Republican after World War II, worsened rather than bettered the situation.

So now, the state has the reigns of the horse -- for the second time in recent history. And it had best do something and fast, lest the richest county becomes the least populous. And THEN where does the money come from?

Shrapnel:

--Nassau County is a complex tangle of overlapping jurisdictions. It has three towns, two “cities” 64 villages and at least that many hamlets, plus dozens of districts: Congressional, State Assembly, State Senate, County legislative, school, library, election districts, fire districts, police departments or precincts. It’s a head-spinner.

--For all but a handful of the last 113 years, the true ruling body has been and remains the Nassau County Republican Committee, which has dominated government at all levels through a network of patronage and pressure. One of its past chairmen was jailed for demanding kickbacks for the party from its municipal workers. Another was involved in questionable land dealings.

--Nassau has the most expensive group of governments in the United States. It has the highest combined tax rates in the country. And its residents pay more in electric and public transportation costs in the state, and in some instances, the country.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© 2011 WJR

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