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State paid salary of key aide for Brown mayoral campaign Mayor-elect defends practice as proper, but won't disclose his payroll records

State taxpayers paid Steven M. Casey's salary while he ran Byron Brown's campaign and continue to do so as he helps manage his boss' transition as mayor-elect.

Taxpayers have also picked up the tab for Brown's campaign treasurer, Dana M. Bobinchek, who, like Casey, is a member of his Senate staff.

Brown said Casey and Bobinchek have continued to perform their Senate duties and that their work during business hours on the campaign and transition have been done using accumulated vacation and compensatory time.

Employees of the State Legislature routinely use comp time to work on campaigns. Legislative employees are prohibited from doing political work on state time, however.

"There is absolutely no problem, no issue with the use of this time," Brown said. "It is proper and legal according to the policies and procedures of the New York State Senate."

"I was smart about everything I did," added Casey, in line to be one of Brown's two deputy mayors. "I made sure everything I did was legal."

Brown, however, has refused to turn over payroll records to substantiate his claim.

What's more, there's a question as to whether Casey, in particular, could have banked enough time to cover the long hours he has worked the past year on the Brown campaign and transition.

Brown, in an interview during the race, spoke of spending 15 hours a day with Casey as his campaign manager.

And Christopher Grant, who managed Republican Kevin Helfer's campaign, said it's impossible to hold down a second job when running a mayoral campaign.

"Being a campaign manager at this level is beyond a full-time job, it's an all-consuming effort for a good six months," he said.

"I was in the office from seven in the morning until at least midnight most week nights, another eight hours on Saturday, and we had policy meetings on Sundays that lasted three hours."

Casey and Brown said a lot of Casey's campaign work was done nights and weekends, and Casey used comp, personal leave time and unused vacation time when he performed campaign tasks during business hours.

>'Unusual' Senate rules

Senate rules don't appear to provide much leave time, however.

Staff members can bank no more than 30 vacation days. Employees get five days of leave time a year, which they can't bank and use another year. And while comp time is routinely granted to Senate employees in lieu of overtime, officials could not point to any documents that sanction the practice.

In fact, Senate employment rules appear to obligate staff members to put in whatever hours are necessary to perform their job, even if they exceed the normal 35-hour work week. Comp time is not mentioned in the regulations, although it is routinely granted to staff members.

The Buffalo News investigation not only calls into question how Brown used his staff during the campaign, but illustrates how state lawmakers use tax dollars to subsidize their campaigns and exploit exemptions in the Freedom of Information Law to thwart scrutiny.

Assemblyman Thomas Kirwin, a critic of the Legislature's comp time practices, said Senate and Assembly staff members are encouraged to build up comp time so they can continue to get paid while working on campaigns.

"It's scandalous," said Kirwin, a Republican from Newburgh. "The taxpayers of the State of New York are essentially underwriting our campaigns."

"What Brown is doing doesn't seem to be unusual. In the real world, it would be unusual, to say the least, but not in the world of Albany."

Casey went to work for Brown after the latter's election in November 2000 to the state Senate. Casey holds the title of chief policy adviser and has functioned as chief of staff for the past several years. He earns about $73,000 annually.

Casey was among seven political operatives hired or assigned to Brown's staff, led by G. Steven Pigeon, former chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party. Some local elected officials criticized the makeup of Brown's staff last year, saying it was top heavy in political operatives.

Casey took on a more-prominent role after Brown fired Pigeon in October 2004. Brown announced his candidacy for mayor the following February; Casey managed the campaign.

>Exempted from FOIA

Known for being organized and a round-the-clock worker, Casey was a fixture on the campaign scene this year. All the while, he continued to collect his Senate paycheck.

It's not uncommon for staff members in major races to take an unpaid leave of absence to work on a campaign and get paid by the campaign. Brown, in his race for mayor, raised $1 million and finished the campaign with about $150,000 in the bank.

By contrast, Grant said he was paid about $500 a week by the Helfer campaign and did not work another job.

The paychecks from the state continued to come to Casey, however, with accumulated comp and vacation time used as necessary, Brown and Casey said.

"I accumulated vacation and comp time and I can do with that time what I want," Casey said. "I decided to help Byron with my time."

Brown called the decision "admirable."

Casey said he spent more than half his 35-hour work week on Senate business during the campaign and transition.

How many hours of comp, vacation and personal time did he use to cover the balance of his work weeks to ensure he received a full paycheck?

"I have no idea, I didn't add it up," he said.

Casey added, however, that he still has "upwards of 175 hours" of unused comp and vacation time.

Bobinchek, who Brown hired in October 2003 as special projects coordinator and who served as campaign treasurer for the mayoral race, did not return telephone calls seeking her comment. She earns about $30,000 a year, according to Senate records. She spent much of the summer and fall working out of Brown's campaign headquarters.

Senate employees are required to complete time and attendance sheets that detail the hours they work, which would indicate how they build up and later use accumulated time off. The News sought copies of these reports for both Casey and Bobinchek, but Brown and Senate Republicans who control the Senate's personnel department refused.

The Legislature exempts itself from some provisions of the Freedom of Information Law, including disclosure of payroll information on its employees, beyond their names, job titles and salaries. The law compels other government employers in the state to disclose a much wider array of information, including what The News sought.

The state Legislature is allowed to disclose the additional information, said Robert Freeman, executive director on the State Committee on Open Government.

But neither Brown nor Senate Republicans would do so.

"I'm not going to release the records," Brown said. "There's no requirement to provide them."

Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, called the Senate's position "indefensible. The only way the system works is if the system is transparent."

It's unclear whether Casey and Bobinchek are legally entitled to draw on anything beyond unused vacation time. Senate employment rules allow staff members to bank no more than 30 days of vacation time. They do not allow employees to use accumulated sick time for anything other than illness.

That leaves comp time. The offices of Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno and Minority Leader David A. Paterson could not provide any policies or regulations that authorize or govern the issuance of comp time.

The News asked Senate officials to provide employment rules that govern, among other forms of compensation, comp time. They pointed to "Time and Attendance Rules and Regulation of the Temporary President," which mentions many forms of time off, but not comp time. The document, after establishing that full-time Senate employees must work a minimum of 1,820 hours, states:

"It shall be the duty of every employee to fully and properly perform all the duties and responsibilities of his/her position . . . for his/her regular compensation even if such performance requires him/her to perform services in excess of the total minimum number of hours."

Mark Hansen, a Bruno spokesman, said senators have wide latitude regarding comp time.

"It is up to the individual senator whether to award any additional time and how the hours worked can be used," Hansen said.

"You have to do something, we don't pay overtime," said Sen. Dale Volker, R-Depew.

>Rules of Assembly

The Assembly, unlike the Senate, has rules. No more than 140 hours a year can be banked, and what's not used at the end of each two-year term is lost.

Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, said some members of his staff use comp time when working on his campaign.

"I tell staff we're running a campaign and it would be nice if they lent a hand," he said. "But if they're doing anything campaign-related, they can't include that in the hours they submit."

Kirwin, the downstate Assemblyman, said the Legislature use of comp time and refusal to disclose employment information is "hypocritical. Essentially, we've lost the ability to blush at the stuff we pull up there."

e-mail: jheaney@buffnews.com

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