Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Advocate
Richard Blassberg

Lessons From The Chairman’s Miscue

It would be “British Understatement” to say that the proposed increases in compensation for County Legislators and for Chairman Bill
Ryan, in particular, were poorly timed, coming when most homeowners are feeling caught between the proverbial “rock and a hard place”.

Clearly, it demonstrated an insensitivity to the plight of their constituents, many of whom are deeply concerned about ever-increasing
property taxes, coupled with lowered home values in the current soft residential real estate market.

Truthfully, the ill-timed proposal and the flap which quickly smothered it can best be seen as a huge miscue on the part of Bill Ryan in
concert with Larry Schwartz and Andy Spano, that triggered an unexpectedly strong press, and public, outrage.

Surely, they must have realized that there would be little with which to justify such a compensation package for the Chair of the Westchester County Legislature, once the inevitable comparisons with the chairs of other similarly populated counties in New York State, in terms of workload, hours, and responsibilities would be drawn.

In short, the leap from the present $89,200 annual compensation, including a very generous $40,000 stipend as Chairman, to $124,200 was entirely too ambitious, and unjustifiable, even in light of the overly generous salaries paid to the County Executive, the Deputy County Executive, and their appointed commissioners. And, the argument by the present Chairman to the effect that his position should be paid as much as commissioners, who presently receive $155,245, if anything, was unconvincing and counterproductive, if somewhat revealing.
While Bill Ryan may feel that his position as Chairman of the County Legislature is a full-time occupation, and one that leaves no room for
any other active employment, that belief may have more to do with style and less to do with substance.

Commissioners, on the other hand, are engaged during normal work hours, at least five days per week, and may, in some instances, such
as the Commissioner of Health and the Commissioner of Public Safety, be required to deal with any number of emergency incidents demanding immediate attention and decision-making at any hour of the day or night.

And, while the Chairman of the Board of Legislators must preside over the activities of a 17-member board, some commissioners, such as
the Corrections Commissioner, must supervise and oversee several hundred employees. It is painfully obvious that the team of Schwartz
and Spano have no intention of relinquishing the throne any time soon, despite Andy’s campaign promise, ten years ago, that he would “serve only two terms.” Naturally, there are those, Tim Idoni, and yes, Bill Ryan, to name just two, who may feel they have demonstrated superior skills and Party loyalty, and may be growing impatient, waiting their turn, and perhaps more so in Bill’s case, at only $89,200 a year. Whatever the case, there was still no justifying $124,200.

Mr. Ryan is a competent and very likeable public gure, and there’s little doubt that his colleagues on the Board of Legislators wanted to reward him and make his wait in the wings as comfortable as possible. However willing they might have been, especially with their 13-4 Democratic edge, to boost his booty, judging by the flak it stirred up, Ryan is more likely to see hair grow in his hand before his wages do.

Westchester taxpayers have been remarkably tolerant and uncomplaining over the last 10 years, hardly issuing a peep as County Government
has grown by leaps and bounds. They’ve even tolerated the $22.5 million no-bid contract given to political ally Cablevision for an essentially
failed communications system, a sweetheart deal signed with a Mob-connected trash hauler, and invented six-figure jobs to reward political and personal buddies, etc., etc.

But don’t rub salt into their wounds. Don’t try to restate the job description to t the compensation and prestige you crave. And, don’t try
to do an ‘end-run’ around them, releasing the details on Friday to be brought to a vote the following Monday. For, if you do, you may set County Government extravagance back several years.

Finally, nothing happens on the Eighth Floor that doesn’t somehow have its origins on the Ninth. Mindful of that fact, Chairman Ryan may very well have been snookered into the position he now finds himself in. Whatever the details, for the time being, he comes away from this
sorry affair the loser. And, Andy and Larry aren’t too sad over that.

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