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St. Lawrence County lawmakers delay decision on assistant district attorney raises

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CANTON — The St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators tabled a decision on raising salaries for assistant district attorneys after Republicans complained Monday that Democrats were pushing a vote on an issue without proper review.

“We have a process here and it doesn’t appear it’s been followed,” Legislator Alex A. MacKinnon, R-Fowler, said. “Did the Democratic caucus get together and think this is a good idea?”

Democratic legislators Vernon D. “Sam” Burns, Ogdensburg, and Gregory M. Paquin, Massena, were absent. Democrats who joined Republicans in voting to table were Jason R. Clark, Norfolk; Anthony J. Arquiett, Helena, and Stephen M. Putman, Canton.

District Attorney Mary E. Rain wants to raise the salary of her assistants as a way to keep an experienced staff and avoid mistakes that cost taxpayers money to right.

“There is no cost savings in the constant turnover of this office. That’s what we had,” she said. “You’ll have a prosecutor’s office that won’t be the butt of jokes.”

While legislators on both sides of the aisle congratulated Ms. Rain for the work her office is doing, the proposed pay raises represented percentage increases that ranged from 13 percent to 23 percent.

Chief Assistant District Attorney David A. Haggard’s salary would go from $80,816 to $98,575, making him paid more than any other department head. The raises would total about $48,000.

“It has to do with responsibility and comparison with what you can get somewhere else,” Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, said. “This is about safety and security.”

However, approval would not have come at a worse time as the county is to negotiate today with public defenders who formed a union.

“I think this puts us in a hell of a position,” Legislator Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, said. “I think this is a very poor time to bring this forward.”

Ms. Rain’s proposed increases do not have the support of either Human Resources Director Christopher S. Boulio or Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire, who said the county does not have the money.

“Yes, attorneys work long, hard hours,” Mr. MacKinnon said. “While I can sympathize, I also have to sympathize with the rest of our staff. These others have just as much responsibility.”

The discussion was heated.

When Legislative Chairman Jonathan Putney, D-Waddington, interrupted Legislator Mark H. Akins’s comment on how the request did not go through proper channels, Mr. Akins, R-Lisbon, scolded him.

“What are you trying to hurry me for?” Mr. Akins said. “Please stop interrupting me.”

Mr. Putney also cut off Legislator Daniel F. Parker, R-Potsdam.

“What are you doing, limiting it to one question when he has the floor?” Mr. Lightfoot asked in his defense.

Mr. Clark said it came down to personality conflicts within the board.

“We have a genuine problem with crime in this county,” he said. “Part of the challenge we have is we can’t keep prosecutors. We lose our D.A.’s office every 18 months. You either choose pettiness or you move forward.”

Legislator Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid, disagreed with Mr. Clark’s assessment, saying that the county has a committee to review non-union salaries that should be consulted.

“I hardly ever agree with Fred Morrill but I like him,” he said. “It’s not petty. It’s a process.”

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