In 2017, after a short-lived bid to become Nassau County executive, Democrat Jack Schnirman, then the city manager of Long Beach, announced he was running for Nassau County comptroller.
One of his campaign slogans was "You report it, we'll reform it." In an ad pushing the theme that he would investigate any questionable aspects of the county's finances reported to him, Schnirman said, "As taxpayers, you know best what doesn't pass the smell test."
Schnirman was elected comptroller in 2017, but now it's his own $108,000 separation payout from Long Beach that does not pass the smell test — legally, ethically and politically. And yes, taxpayers do know it.
Sixteen months ago, with Long Beach going through a huge budget crunch and battling over how to pay its bills, it was revealed that the crisis was partially caused by the city's fantastically high costs for separation pay. These included payouts to Schnirman, who had been earning $173,871 a year, and to several other non-union city employees. The separation payouts exposed unusually generous policies for vacation and sick days. Schnirman was paid for 53 unused vacation days and 110 unused sick days accrued over just six years. A bigger issue, though, was that the payouts to Schnirman and the others, including former public works director James LaCarrubba, were improper.
According to city ordinances, termination payments for those employees should have been limited to 30 percent of unused sick days and a maximum of 50 unused vacation days. Under those rules, Schnirman would have been paid about $53,000 less than he got. When the overpayments were uncovered, Schnirman said 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.”
Although it does appear to be true that overpaying has been the policy for decades, neither Schnirman nor Long Beach has provided Newsday with a legal opinion explaining why.
In June, the State Financial Restructuring Board, from which Long Beach has sought financial advice and monetary aid, issued a report that said of Long Beach's separation pay for police and firefighters, "The Board has yet to encounter a municipality in the state that provides payouts of this magnitude."
The state comptroller has delivered a draft audit concluding that the city paid at least $500,000 too much in separation pay, including the overpayments to Schnirman and LaCarrubba, currently chief of staff to the Hempstead Town supervisor, and payouts for police that exceeded even requirements in their generous contracts. The Nassau County district attorney and the U.S. attorney are investigating to see whether there was any criminal conduct by those involved.
Schnirman says he's cooperating with all investigations, and he's ready to return the overpayment, 16 months after it was first reported. But the question is whether the county fiscal overseer who got too much cash for himself and oversaw a city that paid too much to others is entitled to keep the trust of Nassau's residents. — The editorial board