I called over to the sheriff’s office in Schenectady the other day to see if it was too late for me to change my enrollment to the Conservative Party so I could get a job, and I guess it’s too late. They’re all full up for the moment, having just hired Bob Hamilton as chief deputy in charge of the road patrol.
Hamilton, of course, is head of the county Conservative Party, as well as past president of the Schenectady police union, the PBA, and is best known for his refusal to do police work during most of his six years of union leadership, insisting that he was needed full-time, or very nearly full-time, to perform union duties.
His hiring naturally reminded me of Dom Dagostino’s denial two years ago, when he was running for sheriff, that he intended to hire Hamilton as undersheriff if he got elected. That would not happen, Dagostino said, and as a matter of fact it didn’t. Dagostino, himself a former Rotterdam cop, got elected, but he retained Gordon Pollard as undersheriff.
Now, however, he does hire his old friend Hamilton, whose union contributed $2,500 to his election, as chief deputy, which is not quite as expansive a position as undersheriff, but is still worth $78,000 and does help consolidate the Conservative Party’s alliance with the Democratic Party in Schenectady, much as old landed families in Europe used to consolidate their power through marriage.
The Democrats have a solid lock on both city and county government in Schenectady and they have it in part through the cooperation of the Conservative Party, which is controlled by the police union.
So nowadays it’s understood that a cop retires and he gets a job with the county.
The previous sheriff, Harry Buffardi, retired, and the Democrats helpfully held the job open for almost a year until Dagostino, an enrolled Conservative whose mother is a Democratic county legislator, could get in his 20 years and retire from the Rotterdam Police Department.
Mark LaViolette, another conservative and former Schenectady cop who was vice president of the PBA when Hamilton was president, retired soon after Dagostino took office and was promptly hired as the county’s director of emergency management at a salary of $60,750.
Tom Delaney, a member of the Conservative Party executive board, was hired as administrator of the sheriff’s Stop-DWI program, at a salary of $47,000, shortly after he retired from the city Police Department earlier this year.
And now the great non-working Bob Hamilton.
All of them get pensions, of course, as a result of their police careers, in addition to their new salaries.
LaViolette gets $34,925 a year. Delaney, who made $153,096 his best year as a cop, gets $67,277.
Dagostino gets $61,088.
Hamilton’s pension is not yet posted, since he has still has a few days to go before he officially retires, but it should be about $55,000, based on his earnings, which were considerable despite his not working.
In 2007, when he worked only four days as a cop and spent the rest of his time allegedly performing union duties, for which the city also had to pay him, he made $91,600.
In 2008, when he worked 12 days, he made $129,908.
In 2009, when he worked three days, he made $103,566.
Those were his three highest-paid years, as near as I can figure, which is what a pension is based on.
It works out to roughly $55,000 in pension, which is not bad for a guy in his early to mid-40s who has just landed another $78,000 job.
Didn’t anyone else want to be chief deputy?
Oh, yes, three others (unidentified), but they didn’t qualify. Sheriff Dagostino had written the requirements for the job, and the main requirement was a minimum of eight years in a “second-line command” position, rank of lieutenant or above, which fit Hamilton exactly, and no one else.
So he tailored the specs to fit the candidate, right?
“No,” he assured me, “I tailored the specs to what I feel was appropriate for the position.”
Actually, it’s a bit of a stretch to say that Hamilton has eight years of experience in second-line command, since, as we know, he spent most of those years working not as a cop at all but as a union rep fighting City Hall. I mean, that’s what he says he was doing. Since the union contract required no documentation of his activities, we don’t really know. We do know he wasn’t commanding troops, first line, second line or any other line.
It doesn’t matter. He’s the only one who qualified to take the Civil Service test. He passed it, and he’s hired.
True, the county Civil Service Commission had to approve the requirements, but that turned out not to be an obstacle.
Just as it was no obstacle a couple of years ago when the requirements for director of emergency management were revised so that 20 years of law enforcement experience could substitute for educational requirements, thus opening the door to Mark LaViolette, who, at the age of 41, was retiring after 20 years with the Schenectady Police Department.
And just as it was no obstacle last year when the Stop-DWI program was transferred to the Sheriff’s Department and the requirement of a Civil Service exam was dropped.
True also, these retired cops have to get waivers, as they’re called, from the state Civil Service Commission in order to earn salaries from new public jobs while collecting pensions from their old public jobs. The county has to certify, in effect, that no qualified person is available to head a Stop-DWI program except Tom Delaney, no one is available to be chief deputy except Bob Hamilton, and so forth.
I will get into that in more detail later, since it’s a complicated matter, but it’s apparent that the Democratic-Conservative alliance has learned how to work the system.
One thing I will allow: When these Conservative Party cops collect both pension and salary, they are not eligible for yet another pension (thank God), so the county does not have to contribute to the state pension system on their behalf as it would for other employees, and it thereby realizes a savings. If that makes you feel any better.
Meanwhile, back at City Hall, I noted with pleasure the other night the swearing in of my old friend Vince Riggi as a city councilman.
This is a first in my years of experience in Schenectady — the election of a candidate who does not belong to either major party but is genuinely independent.
True, Vince’s name appeared on the Republican line in addition to the Alliance Party line in the November election, but that was little more than a formality. The Republicans, with no candidates of their own, endorsed him, but everyone knows he’s not a Republican and he’s hardly an Alliance Party person either, since that party was little more than a vehicle for Roger Hull’s candidacy for mayor.
Vince is what’s known as a gadfly, a private citizen who monitors local government and offers suggestions, advice and criticism from the sidelines. He’s been doing it for 20 years and has earned the respect of just about everyone for his knowledge and his honesty.
I had misgivings about him running for office before, afraid he would make the mental shift that others make when they suddenly become office-holders, but now I’m happy for him and happy for Schenectady. That otherwise solid bloc of Democrats could use an outsider in their midst, and it will be interesting to see what influence he has.
He started right away, declaring he would hold public interviews to fill a vacancy on the council, as opposed to the closed-door interviews reflexively preferred by the Democrats. A nice start indeed.