After an investigation into payouts in the City of Long Beach made when Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman served as city manager, District Attorney Madeline Singas declined to bring criminal charges against Schnirman and other city officials, but said they had acted with “incompetence and negligence.”
The office’s public corruption unit began the investigation in 2018 after Long Beach did not pass a $2.1 million bond to cover separation payments for a number of employees. That sum included a $108,000 separation payment to Schnirman, a Democrat, before he left to serve as county comptroller.
“My office has completed our investigation into payouts for accrued vacation and sick leave time made to certain former employees of the City of Long Beach,” Singas said in a statement last Wednesday. “As [state] Comptroller [Thomas] DiNapoli’s audit found, these payments were excessive and inconsistent with the applicable law. Our exhaustive investigation found that these payments were the result of shocking ignorance of the Long Beach laws and ordinances, the incompetence and negligence of the officials charged with executing them, and a total abdication of oversight by the prior City Council.”
Among the office’s findings, Singas said, were most city employees saying they were unaware of the existence of the Personnel Code, which sets limits for separation payouts; officials charged with following and enforcing provisions of the Personnel Code and other codified laws and rules, claiming to have no familiarity with their contents, instead relying on past practices; and one high-level employee claiming that the city’s Code of Ordinances was merely a set of advisory guidelines and that the city was not obligated to abide by it.
“The City Council showed an inexplicable deference to unelected appointees, even when they acted in open defiance of the council,” Singas said. “Audits by the New York State Comptroller in 1992 and 1997 highlighted deficiencies in city policies regarding leave payouts but the City Council took no meaningful action to correct them. Several city councilmembers told investigators that they had no familiarity with the Personnel Code, even after improper payments received widespread attention.”
She added that while her office “found the justifications offered for these payments to be incredible and inconsistent with the plain language of the applicable laws and contracts, we found no evidence suggesting the leave balances were unearned, nor did we find evidence of the criminal intent necessary to bring criminal charges.”
In September 2019, Schnirman said he had returned $52,780 in overpayments he had received.
“During Mr. Schnirman’s tenure as City Manager, he allowed millions of dollars in improper payments to be made, personally accepted a payment much more generous than provided-for by the plain language of his contract, and waited more than a year to return that payout while under state and federal investigation,” Singas said. “The taxpayers of Long Beach deserved better.”
Efforts to reach Schnirman’s office for comment were unavailing.
At the time he returned the money, he said, “I now understand that the methods Long Beach has been using to calculate payout amounts for at least the last 25 years are different than the stricter formula originally set out in the City Code.”
The district attorney said that investigators interviewed more than 30 current and former Long Beach employees and reviewed thousands of pages of records, but that the investigation was delayed by “the refusal of some critical witnesses to cooperate, and questions of privilege relating to certain records.”
“I strongly endorse Comptroller DiNapoli’s audit recommendations and I am encouraged that the new City Council has appointed an experienced City Manager and proposed structural changes to transfer more authority — and responsibility — to the elected government,” Singas said. “Additionally, I commend them for conducting their own internal audit and taking steps to recoup overpayments.”
As for the City Council, Singas recommended that it “establish and codify clear policies governing payments for accrued vacation and sick time, and review City operations to identify any other areas where antiquated opinions from former officials or unquestioned longstanding procedures have led to governing and administrative practices inconsistent with laws and ordinances.”