Former Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman took the oath of office as Nassau County comptroller on Tuesday, pledging to be a fiscal watchdog in the wake of several corruption scandals involving Long Island elected officials.
Schnirman, 40, vowed to take an aggressive and independent approach as comptroller by reforming the county’s contracting system and boosting the number of audits undertaken by his office, including one specifically aimed at nepotism in county hiring. He pledged to serve as the county’s “fiscal umpire” by bringing more accountability, efficiency and transparency to the office.
Schnirman, a Democrat, was elected in November, defeating Republican Steve Labriola as part of a Democratic sweep that included victories by new County Executive Laura Curran and Town of Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen.
Both Schnirman and Curran pledged to root out graft and fix the county’s finances during their campaigns, following the arrests of former Republican County Executive Ed Mangano and former Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto for an alleged bribery and kickback scheme, as well as the conviction of former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.
Schnirman, a Long Beach resident, was sworn in by State Supreme Court Justice Sharon Gianelli at a ceremony at Nassau Community College — twice rescheduled after last week’s snowstorm — attended by Curran, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas and other state, county, Town of Hempstead and Long Beach officials.
Gianelli also swore in Chief Deputy Comptroller Shari James — Long Beach’s former acting comptroller — and Deputy Comptrollers Kim G. Brandeau and Jeffrey R. Schoen.
“We are going to start talking about the state of the county’s finances honestly again,” Schnirman told a crowd of more than 200. “No games, no gimmicks. We can’t fix our problems when there is disagreement over basic issues like whether we’re running a surplus or a crippling deficit.”
Schnirman has long criticized the county’s contracting system, and pledged to bring independence and efficiency to the comptroller’s office while “ending the culture of corruption and cronyism that has destroyed Nassau County finances.”
During his campaign, he said that county officials had failed to enact reforms that Singas recommended in a 2015 report on the county’s contracting process to root out corruption, patronage and conflicts of interest. “We are going to conduct smart audits that ask the tough questions and give the public the answers they’ve been demanding for years,” he said. “That includes a nepotism audit to identify where friends and family have been hired over qualified candidates. From infrastructure contracts to in-house services, we cannot shirk our duty to root out waste, fraud and inefficiencies.”
DiNapoli, a Democrat who endorsed Schnirman, and others noted his leadership in Long Beach after Hurricane Sandy — which hit not even a year after he inherited a staggering fiscal crisis when he was appointed in 2012.
“We really have an extraordinary opportunity to benefit from Jack Schnirman’s public service in the new role for him,” said DiNapoli, who credited Schnirman for turning Long Beach’s finances around. “We had to do our regular evaluations of the city, budget reviews and the fiscal stress monitoring system. Long Beach wasn’t doing so well. Instead of running and hiding, Jack worked collaboratively with members of the City Council, and did a magnificent job of turning around the finances, building up reserves, making sure that the credit rating would be improved, understanding the importance of balancing the budget . . . and in the middle of all that, Superstorm Sandy hits. He knows how to react when there’s a crisis.”
Schnirman took office on Jan. 1 with an annual salary of $187,000. He noted that he would work independently from Curran and other officials, and outlined his four top priorities: modernizing the county’s financial operations, initiating strategic audits to target waste, reforming the contracting process, and improving residents’ accessibility to the comptroller’s office.
“The public needs to trust that the audits, financial reports, policy recommendations and data analysis coming out of this office are developed free from political influence,” he said. “I’m going to run a professional and independent comptroller’s office that won’t back down in the face of the status quo.”
He established a tip line in his first week in office, “You report it, we reform it,” that allows residents and county workers to email issues to ReportItReformIt@nassaucountyny.gov.
Schnirman said he would increase the number of county auditors, saying they had been reduced from 28 to 14 over the past several years while continuing to earn entry-level salaries of $24,000, compared with Suffolk County, which he said has 35 auditors earning a base pay of $39,000.
“It’s not a surprise to me where, in a time when corruption was rampant, the amount of auditors was cut,” he said after the ceremony. “I was really surprised to learn that at the most entry level, the people who are tasked with rooting out waste and fraud in the contracting system, their starting salary is $24,000."
Schnirman formally resigned as city manager on Jan. 1. As part of his contract with the city, he was entitled to more than $100,000 in unused vacation and sick leave, according to documents obtained by the Herald through a Freedom of Information request.
The City Council launched a search for a new city manager in December, and has already received more than 50 resumes, council President Anthony Eramo said. Police Commissioner Mike Tangney is serving as acting city manager until a successor is hired.
“It’s a big loss for Long Beach, but our loss is the county’s gain,” Eramo said of Schnirman. “He’s going to do a great job. We still have a lot of work to do in Long Beach, but he set us on the right path.”