Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot, along with the rest of the town board, sat opposite Southampton town’s finest men in blue backed by men in black — their attorneys — at town hall on Tuesday. Each of the lawyers presented their clients’ side of issues surrounding the retirement, social security laws and criteria for why six longtime officers were left off a continuation of service list earlier this year.
The meeting was called for after a protest on August 26 at town hall where officers brought attention to a proposal that could have given Southampton Town Police Chief, James Overton, authority to force policemen to retire after 20 years of service. The resolution that was proposed listed 20 officers whose contracts will be renewed, but it left six others off this list. That resolution was tabled immediately at that August meeting, but the public along with officers and members of the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) were still able to voice their concerns that night.
On Tuesday, attorney for the PBA Seth Greenberg, presented to the board the four options police can opt into for retirement. He argues that a 1990 collective bargaining agreement between the town and the PBA allows policemen to put in more than 20 years of service.
“This is to encourage the veteran and not to deprive the employer,” he commented, “A police officer’s pension is based on two things; years of service and his final salary.” He then quoted the State Constitution, “membership in any pension or retirement system of the state or of a civil division thereof shall be a contractual relationship the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.”
Vince Toomey, labor counsel for the Town of Southampton, saidÂ “The union has been very consistent, Mr. Greenberg laid out these points and I understand the union’s position – and I don’t agree with hardly any of it.”
Toomey handed out a letter which was sent to the state in 1971, stating that, “If the town of Southampton elects to adopt the optional 20 year retirement plan for its town police department, each member of such department shall be separated from service at the end of 20 years unless service is extended by the town board on an annual basis.” The letter was drafted by the Town of Southampton and the PBA. Toomey added that it was important to “honor your agreements.”
Â “The New York State comptroller seems to agree with our interpretation,” Greenberg said. “It outlines who the employer is and it would suggest that there are four separate plans that this is in fact accurate — the concern is those individuals that have been excluded from this.”
The lawyers continued to argue over their interpretation of the retirement laws. Toomey said the statutes are supposed to be read together.
“If you have two statutes you can harmonize. You are not supposed to read these as one nullifies the other,” he said.
But Greenberg stated that there is an “inability to harmonize retirement plans – we can continue to disagree because harmonizing of statutes will not work in this instance.”
Greenberg also suggested that the town used an unfair criteria in determining which individuals would be left off the list for continuation of service.
Kabot explained that former supervisor Patrick “Skip” Heaney asked Chief Overton to produce a list at the end of last year of officers he would keep on the list for continued service. Chief Overton says he relied on a five-year review of attendance and evaluated officers with 20 years of service or more, and then proposed a list to give to the board this past year excluding the six who had missed more days.
“Sick time wasn’t taken into consideration. It was actual days worked,” said Overton in explaining how he made his decision.
Harry Greenberg, another attorney for the PBA, commented, “This is the first time I’m reading Patrick Heaney’s statement and nowhere in here does it say what criteria the chief should use. What’s interesting is — having never met Chief Overton, but working with chiefs across the county — I know that he knows there is more to look at than the number of times an officer comes to work.”