Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman, a Democrat who oversees county spending, was overpaid by about $53,000 when he left his job as Long Beach city manager to take his elected county office Jan. 1, according to his contract and the city code.
Schnirman says his more than $108,000 payout was calculated by Long Beach staff and based on a city lawyer’s interpretation of the municipal code.
Residents at recent City Council meetings have angrily questioned Schnirman’s payout — along with payments made to other former and current employees — after Long Beach officials warned last month the city could run out of money in a few weeks.
Officials have proposed a 12.3 percent property tax increase and a 5 percent hike in sewer fees.
According to a copy of Schnirman’s Long Beach employment contract and the city Code of Ordinances, he was entitled to the same benefits as exempt, nonunion employees.
Termination payments for those employees are limited to 30 percent of unused sick days and a total of 50 unused vacation days.
Schnirman was due a total payout of about $55,242, according to a Newsday calculation of unused sick time and vacation time listed on his termination pay reports, and the limits specified by the city code and his contract. Schnirman did not dispute the accuracy of the termination pay reports and his contract obtained by Newsday.
The forms show that Schnirman, with an annual salary of $173,871, was paid for slightly more than 52 vacation days and received full pay for 110 unused sick days. The total separation payment was more than $108,000, records show.
Schnirman told Newsday in an email that the city’s earned leave payout policy “was applied evenly across the board for a number of years based on the advice of then-corporation counsel’s interpretation of the city’s code and is similar to what is given to the other bargaining units.”
Schnirman was not a member of a union bargaining unit. He declined to identify the corporation counsel who provided that interpretation. Current city Corporation Counsel Robert Agostisi said Friday he didn’t provide the interpretation, and didn’t know who did.
Schnirman declined requests to provide a written copy of the interpretation on which his payout was based.
He did not respond to questions about the particulars of his contract. The agreement states that he “shall receive the same leave benefits identical to all other ‘exempt’ employees per section 19 — Personnel Code, Article II — Vacation, Sick Leaves and Similar Benefits . . . ” That code limits payouts to exempt employees to 30 percent of unused sick days and 50 accumulated vacation days.
In addition, Schnirman did not respond to questions about termination pay forms that show he was paid for 110 sick days.
“I did not sign off on any payments made to myself,” Schnirman said. “My earned leave obligation payment was treated and calculated by appropriate staff in the same manner as all other management employees. Any time off I took while with the city was recorded with the payroll department.”
Schnirman declined to say whether, as county comptroller, he would allow termination payments higher than stipulated in existing county contracts, even if directed to do so by the county attorney. Schnirman also would not say whether he would allow county employees to be paid for more leave time than allowed under their labor contracts.
He said “Long Beach-specific questions” should be directed to the city’s corporation counsel. “Beyond that, I can’t speak to hypotheticals beyond saying I’d consult with counsel.”
“The real substantive issues facing the city are no secret. They were raised by me and my team during countless budget presentations during the past six years, ” Schnirman said in an email.
He continued, “I did my job as an employee, reported my hours, and all was calculated and signed off by the appropriate departments. And therefore your final questions are best answered by the appropriate folks in Long Beach.”
But Nassau County Legis. Denise Ford of Long Beach, a Democrat who caucuses with Republicans, appeared before the Long Beach City Council at a public meeting Tuesday to say residents hadn’t been able to get answers. She asked the council to justify Schnirman’s payout.
“I want to see, everyone wants to see, how he was able to get $108,000,” Ford said, according to a video of the meeting.
“He’s our comptroller,” Ford said in an interview. “Legitimate questions have been raised.”
Ford wrote letters late last month to U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue of New York’s Eastern District, Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas, state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, asking for an investigation into Schnirman’s handling of Long Beach finances and the payouts to Schnirman and other current and former city employees.
Ford already had blamed Schnirman’s “fiscal mismanagement” for the state of Long Beach’s finances in a letter to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli last month asking for an audit of the city. DiNapoli had warned earlier this year that Long Beach was in “significant fiscal stress.”
A spokesman for Singas said the office had received the letter and would review it. The SEC and the U.S. attorney had no comment, and Schneiderman’s office did not respond.