YONKERS, NY — Mayor Mike Spano, taking aim at unlimited sick leave for city cops and firefighters, announced today that he is hiring a former federal investigator to help set new policies and weed out costly abuses of the system.
Former Drug Enforcement Administration Agent Patrick Shea will serve as the mayor’s $140,000-a-year “special assistant for public safety policy,” a role created by Spano as he wrangles with the firefighters union over plans to cut sick leave and overtime costs.
With Yonkers sliding toward bankruptcy, the mayor’s office says there is an urgent need for a specialist like Shea to find ways to curb police and fire spending, which accounts for nearly 70 percent of the city budget.
Spano said he wants Shea to zero in on two policies in particular — one that allows cops and firefighters to take unlimited paid sick leave for nonwork-related injuries and illnesses; and another that allows them to collect a tax-free salary while sidelined from job-related injuries.
The mayor said he supports the “intent” of both policies, but believes they are “ripe for abuse.”
“Pat’s role is to target the abusers who, unfortunately, are threatening the very benefits that are there to protect them,” Spano said noting that the majority of public-safety employees don’t take advantage.
Shea, who starts Oct. 15, had a 30-year career with the DEA, followed by a 14-year stint with an auto insurance company investigating fraud cases.
His appointment comes after the mayor and the firefighters union clashed this summer over Spano’s plans to change what he called an “abusive” sick-leave policy that is driving up costs.
Spano has called for givebacks on pay, hours and sick leave in contract talks that began last month, and the two sides are expected to enter arbitration later this month in a separate dispute over minimum staffing levels.
Firefighters union President Barry McGoey said today that police and fire overtime costs are high because the departments are understaffed, and the vast majority of firefighter sick-leave cases are for legitimate illnesses.
He added that Shea’s six-figure City Hall job “seems like another expenditure when we don’t have much resources.”
Keith Olson, president of the Yonkers Police Benevolent Association, said: “We welcome anyone who can help restore fiscal responsibility so that we may begin to rebuild our depleted police force. All we ask is that Mr. Shea take a fair and comprehensive review of the issues at hand.”