Hampton Bays Fire District officials broke their silence this week in an effort to justify the sharp pay increase received by their district treasurer, crediting her compensation to an increased workload.
Christine Kenny, the wife of current Fire District Commissioner Kevin Kenny, was appointed to the position of treasurer in 2009 and had a starting salary of $31,400, according to budget data provided by the fire district last week in response to a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request previously filed by The Press. The next year, 2010, she was paid $57,000—equivalent to an 81.5 percent salary increase.
Fire district officials rejected the original FOIL request, stating that they were not obligated to provide the salaries of district employees—a violation of state law. That request, which was filed in December and sought the records of salaries paid to all district employees between 2009 and 2014, was finally honored last week by Richard Durand, the chairman of the Hampton Bays Board of Fire Commissioners.
In total, the Hampton Bays Fire District projects spending $584,213.56 on its payroll in 2014, or roughly 20 percent of its $2,930,065 budget, according to the district’s financial documents.
Ms. Kenny’s salary has increased steadily since 2010, to $60,710 in 2011, $61,058 in 2012, $62,279 in 2013, and her projected pay for this year is $63,836, placing her among the top paid fire district employees on the South Fork. She also is given an annual medical buyout and is a member of the New York State Retirement System, along with the rest of the district’s full-time employees.
Ms. Kenny did not return multiple calls seeking comment this week.
In his latest written response, Mr. Durand justified Ms. Kenny’s salary by noting that, in 2009, she was being groomed for the position of treasurer as she was going to replace Sharon Jankowski, the wife of former commissioner Ted Jankowski, the following year. Mr. Durand wrote: “[Ms. Kenny’s] salary was appropriately adjusted as her duties and workload increased in 2008, and in 2009 following her formal appointment, an appointment she undertook without a deputy or assistant, thereby saving the District and resident taxpayer that additional expense.”
Despite retiring from her elected position of treasurer in March 2009, according to Mr. Durand’s letter, Ms. Jankowski was still paid $40,398 that year while Ms. Kenny was earning $31,400.
There wasn’t an open hiring process after Ms. Jankowski’s retirement and Ms. Kenny was given the job because she was “next in line,” said Robert King, the Hampton Bays fire commissioner in charge of personnel. Although he and the other fire commissioners did not respond to multiple messages in recent weeks seeking clarification on the issue, Mr. King returned a call Tuesday after being advised by former Commissioner Gerard Buckley, who was ousted from his position in December, that the same reporter had called him Monday. Mr. Buckley has not returned calls to The Press.
Mr. King said Ms. Kenny proved that she was qualified to handle the position of treasurer because she had served as deputy treasurer since 2002. He said he does not know what other work she did prior to joining the fire district as a full-time employee in 2010, and could not offer an explanation of why she was qualified to oversee the district’s nearly $3 million annual budget other than her previous experience with the district.
At the end of December 2009, Ms. Kenny ran unopposed for treasurer and was elected to a full three-year term. When asked if it is unusual for the spouses of current fire commissioners to serve as treasurer, Mr. King labeled it as a coincidence, noting that the position is not held exclusively by relatives of the fire commissioners, although he did not know who the district’s treasurer was before Ms. Jankowski.
“I don’t think it would be that way at all, I don’t know why it was done that way. It was done that way before I was here,” said Mr. King, who has been a commissioner since 2006. “I’d be lying to you if I told you I knew why it was that way.”
The fire district originally declined to answer the FOIL request dated December 12, 2013, stating that releasing the information in question was a violation of personal privacy laws and exempt from FOIL. After an appeal submitted on January 17, the district honored the request but officials maintained that they were “not required to by statute,” according to Mr. Durand’s letter.
“Upon advice of our legal counsel,” the letter continued, “we wish to advise you that the disclosure is not to be deemed consent by the Board, the District or any of its employees to the further use, publication, republication or dissemination of the information contained in the records beyond your review.”
Before honoring the request, Mr. Durand and Fire District Secretary Dave Van Scoy directed a reporter to reference the website www.seethroughny.net to access employee salary information. State officials, however, stated that such action fails to honor the FOIL.
In honoring the appeal, the district revealed several discrepancies between the records on www.seethroughny.net—a website run by the Empire Center for New York State Policy, an independent nonprofit based in Albany—and its employees’ actual salary information. For example, the website shows that Ms. Kenny was paid $47,769 in 2010, when she was actually paid nearly $10,000 more that year.
The website also did not include salary information for certain employees, such as Mr. Van Scoy, who was paid $60,000 in 2009, $61,800 in 2010, $65,654 in 2011, $65,564 in 2012, $66,875 in 2013, and is expected to make $68,547 this year. While Ms. Kenny handles finances and human resources for the district, Mr. Van Scoy is in charge of correspondences between lawyers, insurance companies and other agencies, according to Mr. King.
Mr. Van Scoy and Ms. Kenny both work for the district full time and their combined $132,383 in projected earnings for 2014 is nearly twice the salaries of Robert Zaweski of the Riverhead Fire District and Carol Nemeth of the Westhampton Beach Fire District; both Mr. Zaweski and Ms. Nemeth serve as secretary and treasurer of their respective districts.
Also left off the online database was Hampton Bays Fire District manager Stephen Gregory, who Mr. King said is in charge of purchasing and “makes sure we run like a well-oiled machine.” Mr. Gregory was hired in 2011 after an open process that included “six or seven” applicants, Mr. King said. Mr. Gregory’s starting salary was $25,000 and he has been paid $50,000 annually since 2012.
“It’s not just because we have the money,” Mr. King said, referring to his fire district’s salary line. “There’s a lot of stuff that goes on here in Hampton Bays. We run a lot of calls.”