The ongoing drama involving payouts to Long Beach officials took a major step toward resolution on Saturday, when the City Council unanimously approved a resolution that will allow the Nassau County District Attorney’s office to question elected officials and obtain records related to payouts.
The council passed the measure at an unusual Saturday meeting. It will focus on payouts the city made at the end of 2017.
The D.A.’s office wrote in late November that it had not been able to conclude its investigation “due to the constraints of attorney-client privilege or testimonial evidence of attorneys who may have provided such advice on the subject matter unless the city waives the privilege.”
In 2018, Long Beach hired an outside attorney, Anthony Capozzolo, to respond to a grand jury subpoena and represent the city during the investigation. Capozzolo did not return phone calls seeking comment earlier this week.
A spokeswoman for District Attorney Madeline Singas said on Monday that her office had no comment on the council’s action.
A report by the state comptroller’s office said that the city had improperly paid more than $750,000 to at least a dozen city employees, including a payment of $108,000 to departing City Manager Jack Schnirman after he was elected Nassau County comptroller. The payouts are also being investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.
In September, Schnirman repaid $52,780 to the city. A draft audit found that he had been overpaid for 662 hours of sick time. The document stated that the city should recover funds after it determined that payments exceeded the city’s coded cap of 50 vacation days and 30 percent of sick time accrued.
Some Long Beach officials said the city hesitated to pass the resolution because they were concerned that it would open itself up to liability in other civil cases.
But at a quick and sparsely attended meeting at City Hall early Saturday, the council voted 7-0 to waive the attorney-client privilege.
Bill Tansy, president of the West End Civic Association, asked council members whether the D.A.’s investigation would be “forensic,” or exhaustively detailed.
Council President John Bendo said he did not know “what the D.A. will be doing, specifically.”
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky attended, and complimented the council on its action. “I support and applaud your transparent move today,” he said. “We sometimes forget this is taxpayers’ money. The D.A. has been frustrated” in her efforts, he added. “And that is absolutely mind-boggling. I hope we keep shedding sunlight” on the issue. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
Linda King, a Long Beach resident, asked council members how long officials thought the D.A.’s investigation might take.
Christopher Powers, an acting city attorney, said, “They are not required to tell us, but I don’t see this going on too long.”
Just before the vote concluded, Bendo said, “This is what we were elected for. I vote yes.”
At that, applause broke out among the dozen or so people in attendance.