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Legis. Ford receives request for records in Long Beach flap

Nassau County Legis. Denise Ford of Long Beach.

Nassau County Legis. Denise Ford of Long Beach.  Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

Nassau Legis. Denise Ford of Long Beach for months has publicly demanded investigations into some $300,000 in payouts to Long Beach city appointees last year, including $108,000 to former city manager Jack Schnirman, a Democrat who took office in January as Nassau’s new comptroller.

Now, it seems, the appointees are targeting Ford — demanding 14 years of her time sheets, phone calls, voting records, ethical disclosures and expenses along with similar records from her current and former legislative assistants.

An email was sent to Ford last week from a sender identified only as LBNY Exempts, at a gmail address. It cited the state’s Freedom of Information Law and requested records dating back to 2004, when Ford took office as a county legislator. Exempts refers to employees who are not members of a union and can be hired and fired at will.

Although Ford is a registered Democrat, she ran on the Republican ballot line and has consistently caucused with legislative Republicans.

“Your continued commitment to holding employees in local government accountable has inspired us to do the same with other local government officials outside the City of Long Beach,” the email said. “We intend on taking a hard look at the records and conducting our own independent forensic investigation, particularly in light of the alleged felonious conduct of the prior County Executive who you, among others, oversaw and worked with.”

The reference was to former County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican who has denied federal charges of taking favors from a local restaurateur in return for county contracts. Federal prosecutors plan to retry Mangano after jurors did not reach a verdict following a 12-week trial.

“Given your passion for open government and transparency, we hope that you will advocate for the expeditious release of all information we have requested,” the email said.

Ford said Monday she had given the request to the legislature’s clerk with the instructions “to comply as best as he could.” She said some of the records are controlled by the administration of County Executive Laura Curran and some by the state comptroller.

“I have nothing to hide,” Ford said. “We will send the best we can.”

Ford said she was initially concerned that the request was anonymous but was told it is valid.

Robert Freeman, executive director of the state’s Committee on Open Goverment, agreed. “I don’t believe there is any obligation that the applicant identify himself or herself by name,” Freeman said Monday. “Either the records are available or not, irrespective of who asks for them.”

Ford said she didn’t know who was behind the email but believes it was prompted by her public quest for answers about the payouts and her demands for investigations by the state comptroller, U.S. Attorney and Nassau district attorney.

“I’m going to continue,” Ford said. “It’s not just one person seeking the truth. A number of people — two members of the city council, Sen. [Todd] Kaminsky, a whole group of residents —  are demanding answers.”

Kaminsky, a Long Beach Democrat, last week called on the city to hire an outside investigator to review the separation payments. State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, a Democrat who endorsed Schnirman in his run for comptroller, plans an audit. Democrat District Attorney Madeline Singas’s office has been investigating but is awaiting DiNapoli’s findings, officials said.

Ford said, “I am willing to put my face and name on anything I am doing. I find it interesting that whoever is behind this doesn’t have the courage to stand up and own up to what they’re doing.”

The furor began in April when the city council refused to borrow $2.1 million to cover payouts already made to retirees and current employees, including Schnirman.

Newsday has reported that Schnirman was overpaid by about $53,000, according to his employment contract and the city code. Schnirman said his payout had been calculated by Long Beach staff and was based on a city lawyer’s opinion.

A Schnirman spokesman said Monday that the comptroller was not involved in the FOIL request and had no comment.

Newsday reported this month that payouts to union and non-union employees, including appointees who remain on the city payroll, have averaged $2.6 million over the past three years.

City officials have pointed to an October, 2000 memo from the late Corporation Counsel Joel Asarch to justify the payments. But the memo appears to only address accrued vacation time pay for members of the Civil Service Employees Association upon termination.

The FOIL request to Ford included “all resolutions of the county legislature wherein Denise Ford voted to authorize the issuance of bonds for the purpose of obtaining funds for employee separation payouts or draw downs of accrued time.”

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