Tag Archives: transparency

NEWSDAY: Jack is saving us $$$$ (Opinion: The New Gang is Listening and Talking)

[Jack] Schnirman sent a memo to the city’s department heads last Wednesday asking each to cut 25 percent in nonsalary lines from what remains of their current fiscal year budget — and to do it by the following day. The city’s fiscal year ends June 30.

“If you cannot reach your targets, I will instruct the comptroller to reduce your department’s budget to meet the target,” the memo read.

Head over to Newsday and read the rest of the article :  Long Beach dept. heads cut nonsalary costs.

Of course not everybody believes that our city is doing enough or anything at all. There are also those who think Long Beach isn’t in a fiscal crisis in the first place [Head over to the LB Patch Blogs if you don’t know what I’m talking about]. I am not going to argue that issue with anybody because it’s all a matter of opinion that does nothing, but make people fight like a bunch of little kids in a school playground.

I will say this: I feel that The New Gang is doing an excellent job communicating with us residents directly and through the media. You can call it ‘political propaganda’, but I don’t recall the last administration even putting once ounce of effort in communicating with us – besides those tainted LB City Beats. The New Gang wants our feedback; they are meeting with us and are encouraging resident participation (Long Beach Listens &  Citizen Budget Advisory Commission). To me, that means a lot. It makes me feel like I have some power and a voice. I like that.

 

 

City of Long Beach – Transparency Data & Information

We wanted transparency. They promised transparency. They won the 2011 election with the promise of delivering transparency. The city just released numbers: management savings, salary info, charts, myths and facts. Is this just some New Gang Propaganda or are they really saving us money? You decide.

City of Long Beach – Transparency Data & Information

Earlier today, City Manager Jack Schnirman met with all department and division heads this week to discuss budget cuts. He has given a directive that all budgets be slashed by a minimum of 25% in non-salary lines. This is being done as part of an attempt to freeze expenditures. Only absolutely essential items will be approved for purchase at this juncture. Non-mandatory purchases have been ordered to be held at this time. The memo is attached.

Additionally, in the interest of transparency, the City has released official salary and overtime data to show tangible cost savings generated by the new administration. Along with statistics regarding management changes and overtime work, there is a “myth vs. fact” sheet that provides clarity to residents with transparency-related concerns.

Gordon Tepper
Director of Communications

Download the PDF: Transparency Data and Information

City Council Launches Community Outreach Initiative (LONG BEACH LISTENS)

I mentioned this the other day, but here is the official City of Long Beach Press Release:

City Council Launches Community Outreach Initiative 

Long Beach, NY – City Council President Fran Adelson has vowed to offer Long Beach residents a far more open and transparent government.  To this end, she, along with City Council Vice President Len Torres and the rest of the City Council, will be hosting meetings throughout the community under the banner of Long Beach Listens.

Occurring at a different location every month, Long Beach Listens will provide residents with an unprecedented opportunity to meet and communicate with City officials like never before.  The inaugural meeting will transpire on Monday, February 20 beginning at 7:30pm in the West End Firehouse. Upcoming meetings will be taking place in the East End, North Park, and virtually every other section of the community.

Further details concerning future Long Beach Listens meetings, including times and locations, will be posted on the City’s website and social media pages in the coming weeks.

 

Theofan: “Gusler’s suggestion is mean spirited, misguided and downright ridiculous”

City Manager Charles Theofan has sent me his response to the allegations made by resident Jay Gusler.  Below is Mr. Theofan’s letter in full:

Re: Gusler Letter To City Council

I am once again compelled to write to set the record straight, this time with regard to Mr. Gusler’s letter to the City Council calling for my termination. Let’s start with his motives. Mr. Gusler is a lieutenant in our paid fire department. At present he is the subject of six (6) pending disciplinary proceedings. His request to the Council is in retaliation for my role in bringing and prosecuting the disciplinary proceedings against him. He is also positioning himself to claim that he is being retaliated against in the event that he is fined, demoted or terminated. He also has a federal civil rights law suit, where acting as his own attorney; in it he sued the City of Long Beach, The Long Beach Volunteer Fire Department, the Long Beach Police Department, and the following individuals, in their official and individual capacities: Charles Theofan, Garret Rooney, Lisa Mulligan, Corey Klein, Robert Agostisi, Marco Passaro, John Gargan, Scott Kemins, Stephen Fraser, John McLaughlin, Michael Gelberg and Timothy Radin. By naming members of the Corporation Counsel’s office we were forced to hire outside counsel paid for with public funds. I am absolutely confident that the complaint will eventually be dismissed. The ever litigious Mr. Gusler has also within the past year sued the Nassau County Civil Service Commission. That litigation was dismissed this past September.

Getting to the heart of Mr. Gusler’s allegations, he seeks to equate my interpretation of a civil statute with an individual who rented out two uninhabitable basements, each for a $1,000 a month in direct violation of our Zoning Ordinance, which served as the basis for removing a former member of our Civil Service Commission. Let’s look at what I was found guilty of. On July 18, 2007 two members of our paid fire department, while on duty, anonymously perpetrated an unspeakable act of cruelty and harassment against a fellow firefighter and his fiancé. In the interest of their privacy I will not go into details, but it was a indefensible, despicable act. After many months of the perpetrators refusing to come forward, and no effort being made apologize for the incident, the victims hired an attorney, who drafted a Notice of Claim naming the City, and the firefighters union as defendants. At my urging, the attorney held off commencing litigation in the hope of reaching a settlement. I then wrote to all the firefighters expressing my disappointment with their union for not assisting in resolving the matter and I urged the membership to accept a monetary settlement to be paid by the perpetrators in lieu of any other disciplinary action. Luckily, they took my advice and were spared from litigation that would have pitted firefighter against firefighter. It would have been a very ugly situation that would have cost them more to defend than what it was settled for.

My indiscretion, if any, was attempting to save the paid firefighters from themselves by writing to them. Yes, that’s all, and for that, a man with six disciplinary proceeding pending against him asserts that I should summarily be dismissed by the City Council. Mr. Gusler’s suggestion is mean spirited, misguided and downright ridiculous, maybe he never heard the proverb about people living in glass houses not throwing stones.

Charles Theofan

Editorial: “I’m running on the Transparency Party!”

Local elections are coming up and around here and I keep hearing the same stuff: the boardwalk needs to be replaced, taxes are too high, parking and traffic issues, overdevelopment, it’s the Allegria’s fault, blah blah blah. All of those are important issues, but one topic that keeps popping up everywhere is our city government’s transparency, or lack of it. I did a search on the LB Herald & The LB Patch for the word TRANSPARENCY in Long Beach and it came up with pages of articles! See for yourself:

Long Beach Herald – Over ten pages in the last year or so.

Long Beach Patch – 31 recent results!

Now granted, not everyone of those searches deals with the issue of transparency, but people are talking about it. I also saw that particular word on the many political fliers that were sent to my mailbox these past few weeks. It seems to me that ‘transparency’ is a big issue in Long Beach concerning our government! Heck, even the White House cares about it and its importance:

Government should be transparent.  Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing. 

Whether or not the White House actually practices it is something left for another debate, but still, the idea of open government something that I can stand behind. I think a lot of our problems will go away if there was an open government. I’m no therapist, but I do know that communication is key to solving so many problems and relationships! In this case, the relationships between the private & public; not to mention within the public themselves!

Did you know many municipalities actually put their council meetings up on youtube? Do a google search and you’ll see what I’m talking about. The first video in this search is hilarious. And here is the late Steve Jobs, for example, at his city council meeting earlier this summer. Not everybody in Long Beach can make our city council meetings, especially the sick and elderly. It would be of great service to give them the opportunity and see what they are paying for (more about that in a minute).

Ahh transparency.. nothing is hidden! Which is why I half-jokingly threw the idea out to some friends how I want to run for City Council under the ‘Transparency Party’ ticket: Open Government for all! Every citizen of Long Beach would have the opportunity to be involved with all major decisions and have easy access to every single public record, public contract, public payroll and public etc. Why not? Let me remind you of something: These public officials think they own us, but they don’t. Look at Long Beach, for example. We, the people, own Long Beach. We pay these public figures their salaries and they have to listen to what we have to say. They are not royalty and these are not cushy jobs that last forever. We have the right to know who is working for us and what they are doing with our money. That is something that both Republicans and Democrats SHOULD agree on.

So yeah, as a joke, if you elect me on the Transparency Party ticket, I will serve you well with a complete and open government. You won’t work for me. I will work for you, the public.

(PS. I’m not really running for office. I have better things to do with my life. You know, like enjoy it!)

SUPERBLOCK Mismanagement Could Cost You and LB $26m

(The SUPERBLOCK as it stood in July)

UPDATE 10/20:  Read City Manager Theofan’s response to this post here

I talked a few days ago about the precarious financial situation the City is in – that our possible few million dollar surplus could actually not exist, or that it could easily disappear if unforeseen expenses popped up?  Well, doomsday for Long Beach, and you the tax payer,  may be approaching, and it all has to do with the SUPERBLOCK.

The SUPERBLOCK, once upon a time, was the Long Beach Hotel – the birthplace of all of Long Beach and the City by the Sea.  That burned down, and yada yada yada, the lot remained abandoned and unused after a number of other projects came, burned down, and left.  We talked about the WWII defenses that were built there here, and documented some of the other building that burned to a crisp.

Well, in the ’90s, the then near-autocratic City Council started getting serious with finally developing what had long been an unbuilt lot.  If you think LB politics are bad now – you just wouldn’t believe the way the administration back then was talked about.

The story of the SUPERBLOCK is comically complicated so I’ll borrow from Marc Ferris at the Real Deal

Through the 1990s, the empty Superblock symbolized the inability of a public and private partnership to turn a parcel of land fronting a pristine beach into a profitable property.

In the late ’90s, when the long-time Democratic regime was being challenged by new “Republicans,” there were all sorts of gripes.

But despite some obvious improvements in government-no-tax-increase budget, closing the incinerator plant, increased parking and the county’s first skateboard park-critics find much to harp on. This includes hefty increases in garbage and water fees, … support of a controversial expansion of a two-screen movie theater to seven screens with no added parking (I’ve got to laugh at this one as this clearly was a non-issue over the last 10 years), and failure to do anything with the city’s proposed waterfront “superblock” of hotels, restaurants and theaters.

And now, back to the Real Deal’s summary

In 2001, the New York Times reported that the city had selected the Parkoff Organization of Great Neck as the preferred developer. The company proposed a 218-room hotel, spa, restaurant, retail and conference center, but failed to raise the $50 million it needed in the year-long time allotted and forfeited its $150,000 deposit.

In order to facilitate development, the city initiated eminent domain on all 13 lots that comprised the property the next year.

In 2001, the city chose Shore Development, a subsidiary of Philips International Realty, to build on the parcel.

Per its agreement with the city, Shore will pay $26 million to the former owners. Negotiations, including payment for capital improvements and the existing right of way on Shore Road, are done, Eaton said.

That original eminent domain move condemned about half the property that made up the SUPERBLOCK, which was owned by Sinclair Haberman – who promptly sued the City.  His suit – as is standard in condemnation cases – goes “you didn’t give me enough money for my land that you took.”  City: “No, we gave you the right amount based on our appraisals.”  Him: “No, my appraisals are higher.”

In 2005 the City sealed the deal with Philip Pilevsky of Philips International.

This quote struck me as particularly ironic.  The newish City Manger at the time, Charles Theofan, said referring to the SUPERBLOCK development: “‘Not to sound any bravado here, but nothing can stop us now.”

Then in 2007, as development looked like a sure thing (and we hadn’t even thought about the folly of mortgage-backed securities, Fannie and Freddie weren’t household names, and TARP was something that you used when it rained) the City used eminent domain again.

According to Newsday: “The City of Long Beach used eminent domain to condemn six acres of vacant privately-owned land in 2007. The City paid $39 million for the land using the developer’s money. Within weeks of taking title, Long Beach transferred ownership to the developer. ”

Then, Shore Development filed for bankruptcy and effectively vanished, walking away from the whole project, and may have set off a chain of events that will get you in your wallet.

That $26 million that was discussed in 2001, is now the liability The City faces a $26 million liability in two civil suits against the City which is confirmed by a third suit filed in February against the developers, just recently disclosed by Long Beach’s corporate counsel.

UPDATE 10/20: City Manager Theofan corrected me here.  I mistakenly thought the 2001 $26 million figure was the same as the $26 million discussed in these suits.  The two numbers are not connected, and the fact that they are both $26 million is only coincidental.

Basically, the way I read the lawsuit as filed by the City, there are three main things the City is arguing.  First, the defendant (who actually includes a number of different entities, but basically all track back to  Philips International and owner Philip Pilevsk) and through its subsidiaries did not develop the SUPERBLOCK as promised.  Second, Philips – and through their subsidiaries – did not fork over some of the money they were supposed to to cover the condemnation settlements.  And finally, because Philips created a whole bunch of shell corporations, effectively moving any real legal liability farther and farther from anyone that actually has any assets, they’ve left the City and the tax payer (that’s you) completely exposed.

I think this quote from the 2005 Times article might really sum up the irony better than Alanis Morrissette ever could by another new member of the City Council:

”The Long Beach taxpayer would have been on the hook,” said Mona Goodman, a Republican City Council member elected two years ago on a platform of limiting development. ”Now we are finally going to be able to realize this project, but in a very scaled-down way that is beneficial to the public.”

Section 120 of the recently disclosed February 2011 suit confirms the risk the City faces:

“As a result of the failure of any of the defendants to defend, settle, or prosecute any of the claims in two outstanding valuation proceedings still pending against the Plaintiff [that’s Long Beach], the Plaintiff City is currently exposed to significant liability in the amount of $26 million dollars.

Now this lawsuit was filed in February, and confirms that there are at least two pending cases against the City that I can’t find disclosed anywhere else (whether by the City or in the local media).

Further, section 60 highlights the fact that there has been some sort of litigation going on for nearly 10 years with the Haberman family related to the condemnation costs.

And the Times comes through again with more prophetic words:

Sinclair Haberman, the owner of about half of the property since 1993, sued the city in 2003 in an unsuccessful attempt to block condemnation. Mr. Haberman had contended that condemnation was unwarranted because he was prepared to develop the property.

Jacob Haberman, Sinclair Haberman’s father and a lawyer in the case, said a separate case remained in the state courts. In it, his son is seeking damages from the city for taking his property for a 10-year period, during which, he contends, the city improperly thwarted his efforts to develop.

Jacob Haberman said the family supported the revised project as long as the developer picked up all costs, including those that could result from the pending case.

Again, in 2005, the City knew the possible liabilities they were facing.  In the Times they said:

“City officials said under an amended contract of sale the developer would pay the full value of the property set by the courts in a condemnation proceeding. They said that amount might be in excess of $20 million

What does that mean?  The City Manager Charles Theofan,  in 2005, had already realized that if the deal went bust, any additional costs incurred by the lawsuits that were already filed would be at the taxpayers’ expense.

And in yet another quote that I’m sure the current City Manger would love to  have told himself not to say, he confirmed to the Times that: the developer was ”not assuming liability for that case.” He said the city would be liable for any award if the Habermans won. 

And now let’s get to the nitty gritty, what does this mean?  The City is on the hook for $26 million if they can’t get it out of the developer that has since flown the coop.  What is $26 million?  Well in a budget of around $85 million, $26 million works out to be about a 1/3 of the total revenue the City makes in an entire year.

The City surplus was around $5 million in 2007, down to $3.7 million last year, and another million dollars was just hacked off it to cover revenue shortfalls.  One is lead to believe then based on that downward revenue trajectory, the surplus could be gone when audits come back this year.

If these lawsuits are not settled on the side of the City, that 25% tax hike that’s always being babbled about will look like the good old days.

This February lawsuit is looking a bit like a knee-jerk response to the series of lawsuits that are ongoing against the City in light of the realization that there will be no progress on the SUPERBLOCK and the civil suits are winding down.  The City is suing Philip Pilevsky and his shell-corp of Shore Development (which was created in standard fashion to insulate Philips international (the big fish) from any legal liability if things went sour) in an effort to raise funds to differ the mounting condemnation costs.  Shore Development, of course, went bust and has no funds.

I’m an unabashed proponent of development.  And I know a lot of people that read this blog agree with me – obviously within reason and based on transparency.  I want the SUPERBLOCK built on.  I want new shops and new restaurants, and another hotel to keep the Allegria honest.

When some members of the City Council involved in these deals were elected, they had a platform against “overdevelopment.”  Instead of protecting the City from “overdevelopment” (whatever that is), they seemingly entered a boneheaded deal, and got conned by real estate tricksters, all the while, the City and the taxpayers were left “on the hook.”

Worst case scenario?  The City has to pay, for years likely, $26 million to a guy they may or may not have screwed out of his property and cash.  More realistic?  This drags on for years more, with continued mounting legal costs for the City, eventually ending in out of court settlement that costs the City, while totally blocking any SUPERBLOCK development for years more.

Again, the issue boils down to a total lack of transparency – did anyone have any idea these sorts of suits were pending against the City, am I just that out of the loop?  Further, another issue could be politicians running under one platform (avoiding overdevelopment) and then making seemingly nonsensical development decisions when they are the ones in charge.  If I get any updates as to the status of this case, or any of the other cases that are confirmed in the lawsuit, I will be sure to post them.

Are you having trouble sleeping?  You can read the entire February lawsuit here.