Some Southampton Town Hall employees will get tomorrow, July 5, off from work after all.
Last Thursday, June 27, Town Councilman James Malone sided with Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and Councilwoman Bridget Fleming in supporting a resolution offered by the supervisor to close Town Hall and most other town offices on the day after Independence Day, a gesture of thanks for town employees’ sacrifices during Superstorm Sandy last fall. His vote broke a deadlock that had killed a similar measure two days earlier, when Councilman Chris Nuzzi and Councilwoman Christine Scalera voted against it, citing objections to closing town offices for two days right before the holiday weekend, and concerns about the move’s impact on collective bargaining agreements.
Ms. Scalera reiterated her “no” vote last Thursday, but Mr. Nuzzi was absent from the special board meeting called by the supervisor the day before. The measure passed, 3-1.
“I made it clear from the onset that I was in support of it, and I would have voted for it had I been there on Tuesday,” said Mr. Malone, who was absent from last Tuesday’s meeting because he was testifying in a court case in New York City. “We have limited opportunity to show our appreciation … and I was glad to join in expressing that appreciation.”
The supervisor called a special meeting last Thursday morning, just before the Town Board’s regularly scheduled work session, specifically to hold a second vote on the day-off proposal. A second resolution also was walked on and was adopted unanimously; it authorizes the town to pay $8,000 for a Suffolk County veteran services officer to work with local veterans one day a week at Town Hall.
When Ms. Throne-Holst first introduced the idea of giving some town employees the day off on July 5 in her “State of the Town” speech in June, she said that giving them the extra time was a reward for their hard work during Superstorm Sandy last year. The day, sandwiched between the regular July 4 holiday and a weekend, is sure to be a slow one for town business, she said, and gives employees a unique opportunity to enjoy a four-day weekend.
She defended the decision before both votes last week, and again in response to questions this week.
“My purpose in doing it was, really, to thank everyone. Many of them did not garner any overtime or were there on weekends and stayed for evening meetings,” Ms. Throne-Holst said of the preparations and aftermath of the fall hurricane. “But it’s more than that. Over the last three to four years, we’ve tightened the budget, reduced our staff and put a lot more demands on our employees, and everyone has been very good-natured about it. And I felt this was nice and, for lack of a better word, [an] easy way for all of us to show our appreciation for that.”
Not everyone will get the day off. It will be business as usual for the Town Police Department, animal control officers, bay constables, code enforcement officers, fire marshals, parks workers, public safety dispatchers, beach staff, transfer station workers and mechanics. However, those workers required to work Friday will be given eight hours of additional vacation time to be used before the end of the year.
Ms. Throne-Holst said the resolution exempts police officers, because their compensation agreements account for them working on holidays; she also said those who worked prior, during and after the storm were already compensated for the extra time.
She acknowledged that many Town Hall workers and other employees likewise put in for overtime during the storm, but also noted that many did not. “Just for one example, Pam Giacoia at the Senior Center was there around the clock for days, and a number of her staff members just came in to help. They didn’t put in for the time—they just wanted to be there to help people,” Ms. Throne-Holst said of her director of senior services and her staffers. “A lot of our administrative staff, like the town attorneys, they put in a lot of extra hours.”
After the first vote last week, Mr. Nuzzi said that among his objections to the unplanned day off was that many employees already get a large number of days off each year as part of their contractual compensation package—about five weeks’ worth of sick, personal and vacation time for most, but much more for some. He said many employees don’t typically use all of their entitled off-days and that the extra day for those who work on Friday will just translate into another “banked” day that can be cashed in when the employee retires from the town’s employ and takes a check for unused time.
Ms. Throne-Holst this week countered that most employees do use their personal and vacation days, and that she’s seen no evidence of the massive accumulations of days off that Mr. Nuzzi had held up as evidence for why employees did not deserve another day off.
She did consent that “a handful” of employees who will have to work on Friday may use the extra day off instead of a regular personal day that, in turn, will go unused at the end of the year. In those cases, the time goes into their bank to be paid out when they retire, and thus may carry some financial impact to the town down the road.
But the supervisor said the small number of people who will be working on Friday, and the even smaller group that banks the extra hours, will have little financial impact in the grand scheme of things. And it should not undermine the gesture extended to the hundreds of employees who will get to enjoy a four-day weekend.
“We sliced it and diced it—that was important to me—and there is no financial impact to speak of,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “If there are a few people for whom it translates into a banked day, maybe that’s so. But the overwhelming number of employees will use this day. And it’s a gesture of gratitude for hard work—however they use it.”