Long Beach top officials saw their pay nearly double last year because of one-time separation payouts or drawdowns of vacation and sick time, a Newsday review of city records shows.
Long Beach Police Commissioner Michael Tangney, former City Manager Jack Schnirman and Corporation Counsel Rob Agostisi were among the top-paid city employees in 2017 as each received separation payouts at the end of the year, accounting for accrued time off, payroll records provided by the city indicate.
They were included in $2.1 million in payouts for accrued time in the city’s payroll last year. Long Beach officials said union and nonunion employees have been allowed to be paid for accrued time for decades to reduce larger payouts to retirees later. The payouts have averaged $2.6 million over the past three years, according to a state comptroller’s review.
The top compensation in 2017 went to Long Beach Police Sgt. Lee Nielsen, who was paid $287,000 — bolstered by $109,000 in overtime that city officials attribute primarily to overnight DWI patrols and daytime court appearances. Nielsen did not receive a payout for accrued time earned. Tangney, Schnirman and Agostisi followed Nielsen as the city’s top-paid employees.
The city’s other top-paid employees were a dozen police officers making between $245,000 and $195,000, followed by former Comptroller Shari James, who was paid $195,098, including a $44,395 payout, firefighter Sam Pinto, who was paid $188,095, including $72,953 in overtime, and Beach Maintenance Superintendent Thomas Canner who was paid $184,307, including $63,056 in overtime.
The city faced a $2.1 million shortfall this year when City Council members rejected a bond resolution for the payouts, which threatened layoffs if the city was unable to meet its payroll. The debt was rolled over to next year.
Tangney, who also serves as acting city manager, said the city will end the practice of payouts for accrued time to active employees, a practice by the city for at least the past decade.
“We are not doing payouts moving forward to active employees,” Tangney said. “It hurts the city’s financial picture.”
Tangney received an additional $52,000 payment to his $231,965 salary for a total payment last year of $283,957. He did not take an additional salary this year as city manager.
Schnirman received a total of $282,107 last year, adding a $108,000 payment for his previous $174,000 salary, city records show. His payout from six years as city manager included 419 hours or 52 days of unused vacation time, and 877 hours or 110 days of sick time.
Agostisi was paid $128,457 for his accrued time when he planned to leave the city for a job with the Town of Hempstead, but was persuaded to stay with an offer for a $25,000 raise, which was later returned. Agostisi attempted to return the payout, but was told it had already been reported as income by the city for taxes.
The city’s former public works director, James LaCarrubba, who retired in 2016, was hired back as a $39,000 labor relations secretary and a consultant on projects after superstorm Sandy. In August, his salary increased to $130,000. He was paid at the higher rate for two months until he left the city, for a total payment of $69,779, including a $20,967 retirement payout.
The state comptroller is conducting an audit of the city’s payout process and the city’s overall finances, which this year bridged a $4.5 million deficit with an 8.3 percent tax hike.
City officials said the payouts were issued at the discretion of the city manager, primarily for retirements, but also to at least eight employees who remained on staff. Officials said the payments were issued correctly under the city’s payroll code, based on a 2000 memo that allows employees to accrue up to 50 days of vacation time, or 400 hours, plus at least 30 percent of unused sick time and another 25 days by the end of the year.