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State Eyes Great Neck Water Authority Boss’ Retirement

June 30, 2008

By Sandra Peddie, Newsday, Melville, N.Y.

Jun. 30–On the same day that the State Legislature passed sweeping state pension reforms, the Water Authority of Great Neck North quietly passed its own resolution to allow the authority’s boss to retire and return to the same job after retiring.

The arrangement allows Great Neck Water Superintendent Robert Graziano to work part time for $140,000 a year, and “mentor” the new superintendent — his son, Greg, according to minutes.

Although Graziano said yesterday that he is “not trying to beat the law” — which doesn’t take effect until 90 days after Gov. David A. Paterson signs it — the state attorney general’s office subpoenaed Graziano’s records Friday.

In response, authority board members called an emergency meeting tomorrow, according to board member Jon Kaiman.

Last week, the legislature approved landmark legislation to end abuses of the public pension system. Among other things, it bars public employees from returning to the same or similar public job for a year after retirement. The provision is meant to end the practice, which Newsday found in a number of school districts, of officials retiring, collecting pensions and immediately returning to the same jobs. Many retirees, Newsday found, have been collecting six-figure salaries on top of six-figure pensions.

The governor has said he will sign the bill.

Graziano has been with the authority since 1989. Last year, he made $192,427 and is Long Island’s highest-paid water superintendent. Among the factors used to calculate a pension is an average of the three highest years of pay. He said he would make no effort to collect his pension on top of his salary “until the law is made clear.” He’s set to retire Sept. 15.

However, John Milgrim, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said, “The law is clear. We are investigating that transaction, as well as other employment practices and transactions dating back several years.”

He said his office also requested documents from the Great Neck board.

“The first line of responsibility falls on board members to make sure that their votes are consistent with the law; and when they’re not, they will be held responsible, as well,” Milgrim said.

Longtime water authority board members Michael Kalnick and J. Leonard Samansky did not return calls for comment yesterday. However, Kaiman, the North Hempstead supervisor who joined the board in February, said he opposed the new arrangement.

Minutes of the authority board’s meeting last Monday show the board voted to allow Graziano to retire from one of the two positions he currently holds, superintendent, and to remain on part time in the title of deputy chairperson at a salary of $140,000 a year.

They also say the board is “redefining the word ‘retirement’” to allow Graziano to keep his fully paid health benefits. He also gets a car.

Greg Graziano was promoted from assistant superintendent to the authority’s provisional superintendent in December and received a $38,000 raise at the time, boosting his salary to $140,000.

That action prompted Kaiman to replace the town’s representative on the board with himself. He pushed for opening up the search for a new superintendent because it had been limited to employees of the authority.

Yesterday Kaiman said, “There’s something fundamentally wrong with going directly to the father when he clearly is looking to retire and offering him a contract without exploring our options.”

THE REFORMS

Bars lawyers from simultaneously serving as both employees and independent contractors of school or BOCES districts and makes any violation of that a felony.

Requires school and BOCES districts to report annually all lawyers who were hired, what they were paid and whether they were treated as employees.

Requires school districts to break out all compensation and benefits paid to school administrators and to post that information on their Web sites.

Requires school and BOCES districts to report to the state comptroller earnings of retirees.

Compels any school district to demonstrate an urgent need when it seeks to hire a retiree and show the detailed efforts it had made to hire a nonretiree.

Prevents a retiree in any public-sector job from returning to work in the same or similar position for one year.

Makes the criminal penalty for pension fraud a felony.

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Copyright (c) 2008, Newsday, Melville, N.Y.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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