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Both sides claim victory after court ruling on Onondaga County lawmaker pay raises

Ellen Abbott
Acting state Supreme Court Judge Spencer Ludington.

A court ruling doesn’t seem to have quashed the bad blood between the Onondaga County Comptroller Bob Antonacci and County Executive Joanie Mahoney’s administration. Both sides are claiming victory following a lawsuit that accused county lawmakers of illegally giving themselves and other elected officials a raise last year.

Acting State Supreme Court Judge Spencer Ludington sided with Antonacci’s argument that legislators illegally voted themselves raises last year, but threw out several other claims including the legality of a pay raise for Mahoney. Deputy County Executive Bill Fisher takes that as a win.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News
Deputy Onondaga County Executive Bill Fisher and attorney Robert Smith.

"The judge made 10 rulings. We won nine of them. So it was a very good result from the county executive’s perspective,” Fisher says.

But Antonacci says the one point ruled in his favor is a big one -- that county lawmakers did not follow the requirements for public notice when they voted themselves a raise last December.

"The people of this community were vindicated,” Antonacci says. “They were given big rights when it comes to adjusting compensation to elected officials.”

As far as Fisher is concerned it was a minor issue that has since been fixed.

"He won a very narrow cause of action against the county legislature that, as far as we can determine, that will only impact salaries from now until the end of the year," Fisher says. "They've already correct the defec that the judge found in the 2017 budget."

The whole case, which started last winter, has cost county taxpayers at least $400,000, with five lawyers defending a combination of legislators, county employees and the county executive. Fisher says the county had no choice but to hire the lawyers and lays the cost at Antonacci’s feet.

"I think it’s a problem for county taxpayers, that he’s willing to put the county to that expense when he’s supposed to be the watchdog over the money,” Fisher says.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News
WRVO News File Photo
Onondaga County Comptroller Bob Antonacci.

Antonacci says the outcome of the case shows him otherwise:

"This resolution was illegal -- as this court determined -- and we opined on it, and we were right and we did our job."

Antonacci adds there was nothing political about the lawsuit, which Mahoney called frivolous.

"You know, many if the county executive did the job she was elected to do, we wouldn't we hearing some of these rumors. But the bottom line is I'm doing my job and that's what I plan on doing," Antonacci says.

Going forward, the comptroller’s office will have to work with county lawmakers to determine if they will pay back the raises they’ve already gotten. Seventeen county lawmakers have already been paid an average increase of $3,000 this year.  Lawmakers in their last budget vote agreed to change the public notice requirement regarding compensation, so this won’t be an issue going forward. It's expected they'll lose the $1000 in increases still to come this year.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.