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Monday, March 10, 2008

Top Garden City cop gets sweet deal


After a 47-year career with the Garden City Police Department, Ernest J. Cipullo retired as commissioner on a Saturday in September 2006. That allowed him to begin collecting his $100,132 annual pension. Two days later, on the following Monday, he was back at work -- at the same job. Cipullo, now 72, has continued to work as commissioner and earns a salary of $175,434 a year, bringing his annual income to $275,566.

Mayor Peter A. Bee and village board members voted unanimously to rehire Cipullo after he quit working because Bee said Cipullo was "the best person" to manage the department that consists of 54 sworn police officers, 13 civilian employees and half a dozen school crossing guards. "He's doing a great job and there is no reason to let him go," Bee said in an interview last week.

There is nothing illegal about the arrangement. Government workers 65 and older who retire with full pensions are permitted by state law to return to the same jobs and collect full-time salaries. But Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) said he has drafted legislation that would stop the payment of pensions of more than $70,000 a year to civil servants who then return to the same jobs or substantially similar jobs.

The legislation, Sweeney said, is being reviewed by State Comptroller Thomas .DiNapoli. Sweeney said Cipullo's case illustrates the kind of waste and abuse in government that is criticized by Long Islanders. "Why is he worth so much more from one day to the next?" Sweeney said. "That's a little tough to justify." Cipullo did not return repeated calls left at his office.

In Suffolk, three civil servants retired recently and went back to the same job the same or next day. Two of them are on the county payroll, collecting full salaries and full pensions. The third was let go in January. Jim Fuchs, a spokesman for DiNapoli, said last year there were 791 retired civil servants working in municipal jobs statewide. Of the 791, 16 were between the ages of 65 and 69 and collected more than $100,000 each in pensions, he said.

Cipullo is not the only retired civil servant on Garden City's payroll who is collecting a full pension and a full salary. Kevin E. Ocker, 56, a former Nassau County deputy parks commissioner, was hired in 2003 by Bee and the village board as chairman of the cultural and recreational affairs board.

Ocker, who currently receives $112,918 a year, oversees a department of 24 full-time employees and a group of seasonal workers. He retired from his Nassau job on Dec. 31, 2002, and has been collecting an annual pension of $52,808.24, bringing his income to a total of $165,726.24 this year. Ocker did not return repeated calls for comments.

Village administrator Robert L. Schoelle Jr. said the village conducted a search last July for the position but could not find qualified nonretirees despite receiving 33 resumes. Schoelle said he interviewed one candidate from Florida who he said had "limited" experience. "She lacked the qualification we were looking for," Schoelle said.

The other 32 candidates who applied were deemed by Schoelle not to have the educational background or experience in horticulture the village was seeking. So, the village applied to New York State for a two-year renewable waiver, commonly referred to as a 211 waiver, for permission to hire Ocker because he was less than 65 years old and there were no qualified nonretirees for the position.

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