More than 80 residents and elected officials gathered in front of City Hall on July 3 to call on Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas to investigate recent separation payouts to former City Manager Jack Schnirman and other current and former em-ployees who they claim were overpaid.
County Legislator Denise Ford (R-Long Beach), State Assemblywoman Melissa Miller (R-Atlantic Beach) and others questioned whether an audit of the city’s finances announced by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office in May included a review of the payouts. Residents, they said, have received little, if any, information.
“D.A. Singas confirmed that an audit was going on, yet this was denied by the comptroller’s office,” Ford told the crowd. “It makes you wonder, what are they hiding and why aren’t they communicating? We deserve answers, and truthful ones at that.”
In April, City Council members John Bendo and Anissa Moore voted against a $2.1 million bond measure to make up for separation payouts to 62 union and non-union employees in fiscal year 2017-18 when they learned that a number of them remained em-ployed by the city. Bendo and Moore questioned whether some non-union employees in particular — including Schnirman, who left in January with $108,000 — should have received the payments they did.
Ford said she called on Singas and U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue, of the Eastern District of New York, to investigate the payouts, as well as Schnirman’s handling of Long Beach’s finances in the midst of a fiscal crisis.
For her part, Singas wrote in a letter to Ford last month that her office began a
“concurrent, ongoing” review of the separation payouts with DiNapoli’s office in April. “We will investigate any potential crimes identified by the comptroller’s audit,” Singas wrote, adding that DiNapoli’s office is “uniquely qualified to review the propriety of the payments.” She added, “Our own review will benefit from the comptroller’s findings.”
A Herald analysis of Schnirman’s payout documents and contract in April showed that he appeared to have been overpaid by more than $50,000 with a payout amounting to 100 percent of his accrued sick days.
Schnirman has called the separation payouts routine, and said they had decreased “as planned” over the years. He said he welcomed the state audit.
“My leave pay was calculated the same way as all other management employees — no more, no less,” Schnirman wrote in an op-ed in the Herald in May. “I reported my time off to the payroll staff as I took it, like all employees, and I played no role in calculating my own leave pay. It was based on a legal interpretation made years prior and applied evenly for many years. While my understanding is that all payments were calculated properly, if a review shows the city made any error in my payment, I would immediately return any overage.”
The rally was held an hour before the City Council was set to vote on a proposed $2.5 million bond measure — the council approved a $1.8 borrowing measure instead — to cover retirements and separation payouts in the 2018-19 fiscal year, which also sparked criticism at the rally.
The crowd shouted, “Where is Singas?” and “Give the money back, Jack!”
“This has sort of been a private ATM machine for some people in the city,” Bendo, who was joined by Moore, told the crowd. “It’s time to bring that to an end, and bring some ethical conduct back to the operations of the city.”
“This is stealing taxpayers’ money,” resident Harry Grandell told the council after the rally.
At the May 15 City Council meeting, council President Anthony Eramo said that the city provided information to DiNapoli’s office to determine whether payouts over the past six years were appropriate, as part of a comprehensive audit of the city’s finances that would take six to nine months to complete.
“Everything that has to do with the previous bond is being looked at by [DiNapoli],” Eramo said at last week’s meeting. “All that is being investigated. If we find out that it was illegal … we’re going to have to take action.”
Assemblywoman Miller said at the rally that there was “no record” that a review of recent separation payouts was under way in DiNapoli’s office.
Asked whether the office was looking into the payouts as part of an audit — and whether it had yet received any documentation from the city — a spokesman for DiNapoli, Brian Butry, said only, “I can confirm that we will be conducting an audit. The scope has not been determined yet, nor has the start date.”
“We feel that you don’t necessarily have to wait for the comptroller to do an audit, because these payouts are completely separate,” Ford told the Herald on Tuesday. “Take a look, and tell us whether they were overpaid or not — we feel that they were.”