The Journal News.
By LIZ ANDERSON
THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original Publication: March 18, 2007)
At a glance
Who: Westchester's Republican and Democratic election commissioners (one each)
What: Proposed 22 percent raise
Current salary: $127,125*
Proposed new salary: $155,245,* to match county department heads (*Base salary; does not include longevity bonuses.)
Proposed by: County Executive Andrew Spano; must be ratified by the county Board of Legislators
Westchester's politically picked election commissioners would get $28,200 raises to match their salaries to other county department heads under a new proposal.
Each of the commissioners, Republican Carolee Sunderland and Democrat Reginald LaFayette, earns a base salary now of $127,125, top scale for their pay category and already the highest in the region.
Sunderland, who has served since December 1990, earns an additional $2,725 in "longevity pay"; LaFayette, who started at the beginning of 1999, gets $2,225.
"It's not a raise, it's just bringing (the salary) up to par," LaFayette said. "In a sense, we were underpaid."
Most county commissioners earn a standard salary of $155,245 for 2007; they are appointed by County Executive Andrew Spano and confirmed by the Board of Legislators, and serve at Spano's pleasure. In contrast, the Republican and Democratic election commissioners are nominated by a vote of their parties for two-year terms, subject to legislators' confirmation.
LaFayette also is chairman of the county Democratic Party. Sunderland has served in the past as the vice chairwoman of the county Republican Party and was the party's paid manager of its office in White Plains for about a decade before taking the election post.
The 22 percent salary increase was included in a series of otherwise minor pay-and-title adjustments submitted by Spano to the county Board of Legislators for consideration this week. Money to cover the changes has already been included in the 2007 budget.
Susan Tolchin, chief adviser to Spano, said the election commissioners had asked for raises in the past but did not specifically ask for one this year. But, "with their new responsibilities under HAVA (the federal Help America Vote Act), which certainly increases their role and responsibilities as election commissioners ... the administration felt - we felt - that they needed to be on a par with the other commissioners," Tolchin said.
"We felt they were underpaid as department heads. They are commissioners, regardless of who appoints them."
The federal voting reform law has required the county to centralize its election procedures under the Board of Elections, from the establishment of polling places and hiring of elections staff to the storage and maintenance of voting machines.
The legislature's budget committee chairman, Michael Kaplowitz, D-Somers, said the proposal seemed "fair" to him. He said he was unsure why the election commissioners had been paid less than Spano's department heads until now.
Board Minority Leader George Oros, R-Cortlandt, said he has concerns about a high-ranking leader of any party holding a county policymaking post, as LaFayette does.
"That's something we might want to address in an ethics law," he said, noting that the minority caucus was working on a package of proposed changes now.
At the same time, Oros said he didn't have any problem with raising the election commissioners' salaries to match other department heads, though he added, "I didn't realize our (other) commissioners were making that much."
Sunderland said she was "pleasantly surprised" that the pay increase had finally been submitted.
"With centralization, what we've been going through over the past year and a half and will continue to go through over the next year and a half, I think it's very justifiable," she said.
"We work very long hours here," echoed LaFayette, who added that "with the centralization of the elections under HAVA, we're taking on more and more responsibility."
LaFayette contended that Nassau County, on Long Island, pays its election commissioners a salary that matches those of other department heads. But Kara Guy, a spokeswoman for Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi, said that was not correct. Guy said election commissioners there earn $110,005, but "other county commissioners make all different salaries."
Rockland County election commissioners earn $77,195, while other county commissioners' salaries vary, said C.J. Miller, a spokeswoman for County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef. Putnam Election Commissioner Robert Bennett said he and his counterpart earn $42,600 for what is considered a part-time position there.
Copyright © 2006 The Journal News, a Gannett Co. Inc. newspaper serving Westchester, Rockland and Putnam Counties in New York.