Long Beach votes to settle with Robert Agostisi

The protestations of livid community members and a lively back-and-forth among City Council members highlighted a meeting on Tuesday, which ended with a vote to settle a 2021 lawsuit against the city by former Acting City Manager Robert Agostisi for $250,000.
The settlement amount, which was not included on the agenda, was announced after a brief executive session, before the public discussion.
Council President Brendan Finn, Vice President Chris Fiumara and Mike Reinhart voted for the settlement. Roy Lester voted no, and John Bendo, who is named in the suit, recused himself.
“I don’t shy away from a battle, I don’t shy away from a challenge, but I feel that this settlement is in the best interests of the people of Long Beach,” Finn said. “I don’t want to continue with this, because we don’t know how it’s going to end and we don’t know how much more money we’re going to spend. I’m voting in favor of the resolution, but it’s very difficult to make 
that decision.”
Fiumara said that if the city didn’t settle with Agostisi, it risked spending much more money to continue litigation.
Agostisi was the city’s corporation counsel starting in January 2015, and was acting city manager from February 2019 until he resigned that September. His resignation came less than two weeks after State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli released a draft audit report that concluded that Long Beach had overpaid current and former employees $500,000 in separation payouts.
Agostisi’s suit claimed that the city refused to pay him money he was owed for unused vacation and other time, and that he did not owe the city any money as part of the alleged payout scandal. The suit named Bendo, former council members Michael DeLury, Scott Mandel, Karen McInnis and Liz Treston, and John McNally, the spokesman for the city.
The suit, filed in December 2021, came seven months after the city filed suit against Agostisi and former City Manager Jack Schnirman, saying the payout scheme cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars. The city said at the time it was seeking $1.5 million from Schnirman and $889,985 from Agostisi, as well as punitive damages from both.
The Herald initially reported the alleged separation overpayments in 2018. Schnirman returned roughly half of his separation payment, more than $50,000. Agostisi, on the other hand, had not returned any money. Then former Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas investigated possible wrongdoing in the case. There was not enough evidence to charge criminally, but Singas rebuked Schnirman’s and the City Council’s conduct, and recommended that the city claw back the overpayments.
The vote to settle with Agostisi was preceded by public comment. Resident after resident came up to the lectern to share their opinions, all opposed to the settlement. 
“To actually pay a person whom the authorities said had an improper agreement and an improper payout is beyond the pale," John Ashmead said. “That sends the worst possible message to current and future employees and appointees, that you can take improper payouts, you can enter into improper agreements, you can hide agreements, you can mislead residents, and if you’re a difficult litigant, we will pay you nonetheless.”
Ashmead exceeded his allotted three minutes, but other community members in attendance told the council they wanted him to finish, so he did. 
“I ask you to think clearly, to think deliberately, without haste, to think about this and what is in the light to best protect the city in the long term,” Ashmead said. “This issue will be with us long after you’re no longer on the dais.”
Finn responded by saying that the council needed to make sure this never happened, again and “the way for this to never happen again is we have to rectify the situation.” 
Eileen Hession, a frequent speaker at council meetings, said, “Long Beach could find itself with multiple lawsuits by people who trip on the boardwalk, knowing it always gets settled. Please don’t give Rob Agostisi any more of the taxpayer money.”
Former County Legislator Denise Ford said she worked alongside other community members and elected officials on investigating the alleged overpayments at the time. The settlement, Ford said, makes it seem like their “hard work is getting thrown aside.”
“I’m very upset,” she said. “I understand like the previous speakers, because I was with a lot of them working on this. We have to start standing up to a lot of these bullies. The residents have paid for so much mismanagement on the part of previous administrations. I’m sick and tired of people taking advantage of the city.”
In response to the settlement and the public comment at the meeting earlier in the week, Agostisi's lawyer, Rick Ostrove, said, "Anyone who says Agostisi did anything wrong, is a political hack or misinformed. The city was smart to settle. It would have cost them a lot more money to get to the end of this case and lose. The city would have lost this case because Rob Agostisi did nothing wrong. That's why the Appellate Division threw out most of the city's case, including all of the fraud claims. He did not defraud Long Beach, he did not defraud anyone, and there was a specific finding from the Appellate Division that no such thing occurred."