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Employees

Democrat town board members question hiring process, diversity of town appointments

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh.

The first wave of Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci’s (R) appointments to his new administration has sparked allegations of bias and possible nepotism.

Huntington Town Board voted 3-2 to appoint 11 directors to various town departments at their Feb. 6 meeting. The vote was sharply split along party lines with Democrats Councilman Mark Cuthbertson and Councilwoman Joan Cergol raising objections based on the hiring process, or lack of one.

“We have 11 appointees and 11 white males,” Cuthbertson said. “If we were looking to recruit an executive team for high school sports, this might be a good start. We are looking to run a diverse and dynamic town. I think we need to have at least considered other candidates.”

Lupinacci’s Appointments:

•John Clark
Director, Dept. of Environmental Waste Management
$120,000 annual salary

•Paul Ehrlich
Vice chairman, Planning Board
Unknown compensation

•Leah-Michelle Jefferson
Equal Employment Opportunity officer
$2,000 Stipend

•Matthew Laux
Deputy director, Dept. of Environmental Waste Management
$118,000 annual salary

•Brooke Lupinacci
Liaision officer, Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program
No stipend

•Richard McGrath
Member, Zoning Board of Appeals
Compensation unknown

•William Musto
Deputy director, Dept. of Parks and Recreation
$100,000 annual salary

•Joseph Rose
Deputy director, Dept. of Public Safety
$27,880 annual stipend

•Peter Sammis
Director, Dept. of Public Safety
$115,000 annual salary

•Andre Sorrentino
Director, Dept. of General Services
$120,000 annual salary

•Dominick Spada
Deputy director, Dept. of Maritime Services
$60,000 annual salary

•Greg Wagner
Director, Dept. of Parks and Recreation
$115,000 annual salary

•Nick Wieland
Deputy director, Dept. of Information Technology
$100,000 annual salary

The supervisor originally sought to hire or confirm those individuals he selected at the Jan. 23 town board meeting. He pulled the action from the meeting agenda, delaying two weeks after protests from Cuthbertson and Cergol saying they had not had adequate chance to vet the candidates.

“As I’ve considered my vote for today, several key questions have surfaced in my mind,” Cergol said. “Chief among them was who else was up for these jobs? How wide of a net did we cast to fill these jobs? Were there efforts to seek diversity in the hiring process?”

Lupinacci said the candidates’ résumés were  received through the New Direction Transition Team website launched Nov. 30. The applicant were narrowed down by him, members of his transition team including newly elected Councilman Ed Smyth (R), and town employees before being invited in for an interview.

“I think we have an all-star list of appointees that will be heading up each department,” Smyth said.

Cuthbertson pointed out that several of Lupinacci’s appointments are Republican party members who have previously run unsuccessfully for town offices.

Republican John Clark, who lost to Democrat Kevin Orelli for superintendent of highways last November, is the new director of Department of Environmental Waste Management as of Feb. 26. Clark will receive an annual salary of $120,000.

Huntington Bay mayor Dominick Spada, who lost to incumbent Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) in his bid to represent the 18th District, will become the town’s new deputy director of the Department of Maritime Services. Spada will receive $60,000 annually.

Richard McGrath, who ran on the Republican line for town board in Nov. 2003, has been appointed as a member of the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals by Lupinacci.

“One of the criteria is that if you ran for public office as a Republican, you have a chance to be a department head,” Cuthbertson said, sarcastically. “It should not be a disqualifier that you were involved in politics. I think people should be involved in politics, and I think there are good people on this list who are involved in politics, but it really lends itself to cynicism about the process.”

The councilman said previous administrations had run advertisements for open positions in The New York Times to ensure a large, diverse pool of applicants.

In addition to the 11 appointments to department heads and town boards, Lupinacci also designated two programs liaisons to existing town employees.

Lupinacci said that despite several conversation and invitations, he had not received any résumés for applicants looking to be considered from either of his Democrat board members. The supervisor said he is looking to fill several town positions in coming months and all are welcome to apply.

The New Direction TransitionTeam website can be found at www.chad2017.com

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McCarthy, Nowick, Vecchio vote again to table Creighton’s proposal to pay seasonal workers $9 an hour

File photo by Rachel Shapiro

A previously tabled motion to increase the minimum wage for Smithtown employees was sidelined once again, and the town board is at odds over the reasoning behind it.

Councilman Bob Creighton (R) had initially proposed, at a work session in August, to raise the town’s minimum wage from $8.75 to $9 per hour as of April 2016, but Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) later floated a motion to table the proposal, which was unanimously approved. The measure reappeared on Tuesday’s Smithtown Town Board meeting agenda and Nowick once again voted to table the discussion, drawing 3-2 split from councilmembers, with support from Councilman Tom McCarthy (R) and Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R).

“This doesn’t mean I am not in support of this,” Nowick said, in justifying her decision to table the proposal a second time, after Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R) had publicly asked her to explain her decision. “I want to look at the budget, which is not due for another 30 days or so.”

In a phone interview, Creighton said he was caught off guard by the decision to table the proposal a second time, and the councilwoman’s explanation to wait for the budget process early next month bewildered him.

“It does not seem to be a justification, in my mind, for postponing the vote,” said Creighton, who, along with Wehrheim, voted against Nowick’s motion to table the proposal for a second time. “You’re either for it or against it.”

Creighton said the 25-cent raise for the town’s roughly 150 seasonal workers making $8.75 an hour — would ultimately cost roughly $23,000, which he said could be factored into the budget now so the budget process could react accordingly.

“The actions of those three are asinine,” Creighton said. “It’s an insult to the kids who are working hard in this town.”

Wehrheim said he was concerned with the way the procedure went through, given the fact that the councilmembers who voted against the resolution had weeks since it was last tabled to voice their concerns regarding its financial impact on the town. He said the $9 minimum wage proposal was not only in line with state law, but was also run by Vecchio, Comptroller Donald Musgnug and the town’s personnel department, which he said validated the proposal.

“Not one word was uttered about any intention to table that resolution,” Wehrheim said. “The time to have that discussion was certainly at our work session. I know Councilwoman Nowick said she’d rather look at the budget first, but there is no reason to. I don’t think it’s fair to the public.”

Musgnug had no comment on the matter. But Vecchio later said Creighton’s resolution was a politically motivated decision, as most town workers were already making more than $9.

Over the last several months, Smithtown resolutions for municipal hires showed workers being hired at rates anywhere from as low as $8 to as high as $16 per hour. The town, however, is not legally bound to abide by a minimum wage.

McCarthy, who voted in favor of tabling the discussion alongside Nowick and Vecchio, said in a phone interview that he was in favor of raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour for the town’s seasonal workers, but believed it should be put into the budget. He also said he and his fellow councilmembers had full intentions of seeing the raise put into effect through the budget.

McCarthy said everyone on the board was ultimately in favor of raising the minimum wage, but they disagreed over how to implement the change.

“Going up to $9 is not a problem,” McCarthy said. “But the process is not putting it into a resolution. We’ve never done that before, ever. I tabled it because I will be putting it into the budget myself, definitely.”

In a similar instance last year, McCarthy had put forward a successful 3-2 resolution to increase the salary of the deputy supervisor — his own position — by $30,000, but ultimately rescinded the decision and said he would rather see that call come via the budgeting process. The raise was later included in the 2015 budget and passed.

Employee attendance to be tracked electronically

File photo by Rohma Abbas

Huntington Town employees may soon have their work time and attendance tracked by a new electronic system.

The board voted unanimously by resolution earlier this month to authorize the implementation of an electronic time and attendance system. The resolution was sponsored by Huntington Town Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) and seconded by Councilman Gene Cook (I). The new electronic system will replace an old paper sign-in system.

“There has to be a system in place to track employees’ times,” Berland said in a phone interview this week.
The resolution was adopted for two reasons, Berland said.

In 2013, an audit of the town’s payroll costs by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office found the town had issues monitoring its overtime and leave benefits that could have entailed higher payroll costs.

The audit findings resulted in a recommendation to upgrade the town’s outdated time and attendance system.

Issues with overtime and leave are expected to be alleviated by the updated electronic system, which was a major finding of the 2013 audit. The audit looked at records from January 2011 through May 2012, and found that Huntington Town allowed employees to accrue more leave than bargaining agreements permit.

Implementing the electronic system also fulfills a requirement to qualify for tax relief for New York State taxpayers as part of the Government Efficiency Plan program. The plan, which is outlined on the state Division of the Budget page on the New York State government website, states that local governments and school districts can generate relief for taxpayers and qualify for the program by reducing costs through the consolidation of services.

The new automated system would be a step in the right direction to qualifying Huntington Town for the program and fulfilling the state requirements, Berland said. The new system was available on the New York State contract and procured with the New Jersey-based company SHI International Corp., according to the resolution. The total cost, which includes service contracts, computers, software and printers, will be $255,000.

“It helps lower payroll costs in the end,” Berland said, which she said is a key deciding factor in gaining approval on the town’s Government Efficiency Plan.

The new system will also serve to provide the town with “a more uniform sign in policy,” town spokesman A.J. Carter said during a phone interview.

Berland said there is not yet a timetable in regards to when the new system will be up and running, and that she did not want to speculate on a date.

“We have to develop a plan about how and when to institute this,” Berland said.

Double ‘O’ Landscaping Inc. owner Richard Orvieto. Photo from the attorney general's office

Suffolk County officials arrested Richard Orvieto, 55, of Stony Brook on Tuesday and charged him with failing to pay overtime to workers.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Orvieto, the owner and operator of Double “O” Landscaping Inc., committed wage theft while operating his Stony Brook-based business.

From Aug. 24, 2011, to Jan. 31, 2014, Orvieto hired workers and allegedly neglected to pay them overtime, according to a criminal complaint. Toward the end of 2013 Orvieto fired three of these employees and neglected to pay them for their final week at the company, the attorney general said.

The Attorney General’s office said Orvieto was supposed to pay his employees one and one half times their regular pay if they worked more than 40 hours a week. The three unidentified employees who were fired allegedly worked around 20 hours of overtime per week and were not compensated, Schneiderman said.

Orvieto now owes these employees more than $13,000, according to the attorney general.

Orvieto is also charged with defrauding the state unemployment insurance system for paying wages in cash off the books. Schneiderman said he did not report the wages of two of the three former employees and several other workers to the state unemployment insurance fund for this quarterly period.

Double “O” Landscaping’s quarterly return files did not include the names of the fired employees consistently, the complaint said. For the quarterly return files, filed from July 31, 2012, to Jan. 31, 2014, did not include the names of the three fired workers, Schneiderman said.However, Orvieto’s name consistently appeared on these documents.

The landscape business owner “is also liable for unpaid unemployment insurance contributions, fraud penalties and interest to the state unemployment insurance system totaling more than $19,000,” the attorney general said in a press release.

Orvieto was arraigned on June 22 in the 1st District Court in Central Islip. His next court date was set for Aug. 25.

He faces felony charges for falsifying business records and offering a false instrument for filing both in the first degree. Orvieto also faces two unclassified misdemeanors for failure to pay wages under Labor Law Section 198-a(1) and Willful Failure to Pay Unemployment Insurance Contributions. If convicted, he faces maximum jail sentence of four years.

Orvieto and his company will also “face maximum fines, in addition to restitution, of $20,000 for each count.”

Orvieto’s defense attorney, Paul Kalker of Hauppauge, was unavailable for comment.

Under New York law, employers are required “to pay wages no later than seven days after the end of the week when the wages were earned and to report all wages paid to employees on quarterly tax filings with the state,” according to the attorney general’s office.

Schneiderman was unavailable for further comment but said in the press release that protecting hardworking New York employees is a priority.

“My office will take aggressive action, including criminal charges, where appropriate, against business workers who fail to properly compensate their workers, and who try to avoid other laws by paying workers off the books,” Schneiderman said.

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