State Sen. Todd Kaminksy called on the City Council on Tuesday to launch an independent investigation into recent separation payouts to a number of employees who may have been overpaid, including some who are still on the city’s payroll.
Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach who has called the payouts “troubling,” urged city officials to hire an outside investigator to look into whether the payments to 62 union and non-union employees in the 2017-18 fiscal year were appropriate.
According to a list of the disbursements obtained by the Herald, 16 union and non-union employees received more than $300,000 in separation payouts and “drawdowns” of their accumulated time in 2017-18, but remain on the payroll.
“I believe some of the issues front and center before the council regarding separation payments have reached a suffocating point,” Kaminsky said. “People are very frustrated about their inability to get answers, and I think every taxpayer has the right to know what happened to their tax dollars. And perhaps most importantly, to have assurances that there are safeguards so that such things don’t happen again.”
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 employed by the city. Bendo and Moore questioned whether some non-union employees — including former City Manager Jack Schnirman, who was elected Nassau County comptroller in November and left his job in Long Beach in January with $108,000 — should have received the payments they did.
Kaminsky’s comments came on the heels of a rally held outside City Hall earlier this month, at which Nassau 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. They called on Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas to launch an investigation.
Singas, however, said that a “concurrent, ongoing” review of the payouts has been under way with DiNapoli’s office since April, and that her office would “investigate any potential crimes identified by the comptroller’s audit.”
On Twitter last week, DiNapoli stressed that the audit — which is expected to take six to nine months — would examine payroll and separation payments.
“We are coordinating with [the Nassau D.A.],” DiNapoli said in his post. “We do not discuss the specifics of an audit until it is complete.”
Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor, called on the city to launch its own independent review — by hiring a former federal prosecutor, a forensic investigator or other experts — instead of waiting for the results of the state audit. He said that in the private sector, companies conduct internal reviews if there is “even a hint of impropriety, or scandal or even just a complaint made.”
“The companies wouldn’t say, ‘Hey look, someone’s looking around here — when they put out a report, I guess we’ll read it together,’” Kaminsky said. “. . . None of us are in control of the timing of the comptroller’s audit, and that could take a long time. And I think it’s very hard for us to move forward . . . with this cloud hanging over us.”
On Facebook, Bendo also called on the city to launch an independent investigation.
Council President Anthony Eramo said that council members were also frustrated by their inability to get answers, but he added that hiring an outside investigator would cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“We joined with you and Legislator Ford for the comptroller to come and do an audit,” Eramo told Kaminsky. “. . . I . . . do trust the New York state comptroller and the Nassau D.A., which is what the voices that cried first wanted and which we all requested. We’re looking forward to the report and examination.”
Some residents have questioned whether an audit by DiNapoli, who endorsed Schnirman in his bid for comptroller last year, would be impartial.
Asked after Tuesday’s meeting whether he had confidence in DiNapoli’s and Singas’s reviews, Kaminsky said, “I have no reason to believe that they are not going to do a thorough job.”
“I think the city should want information on its own timeline and institute reforms based on that information as soon as possible,” he added.
Before the meeting, Eramo told the Herald that the city had ended its practice of giving drawdowns for accumulated sick, vacation and personal time to employees still on the payroll, and that the city was awaiting the results of the comptroller’s report to make further policy changes.
An attorney for the city said that launching an outside investigation could potentially compromise the D.A.’s and comptroller’s reviews.
“We can debate that all night,” Kaminsky said. “From Fortune 500 companies to mom-and-pop stores, when people have gotten subpoenas — much worse circumstances than we’ve seen here — people have called in people to do their own assessment.”