Friday, March 30, 2007

Blind Item - Town Council Edition

What Town Council (gotta guess the Town too) member spent over $300 of campaign cash at a beauty salon?
Did I forget to mention the Town Council member is a MAN?

Sure, it's not taxpayer money but what do contributors think of thier money being used to make the CouncilMAN feel pretty?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Blind Item: NYS Edition

What Nassau State Legislator is considered by his colleagues to be the "Ted Baxter" of the legislative body?

Schmitt Trying to Pull an Election Year Fast One

There is a big difference between tax relief and a freeze of property assessment. Schmitt should know that. He probably does but he's hoping YOU don't.
It sounds good to have a 5 year freeze on assessments but that does not scratch the surface of tax relief. News12 reports "Schmitt says he wants to put an end to stealth taxes and give residents a chance to catch their breath."
County Assessor Levinson says the county can't afford a 5 year freeze but may be able to do 2 years.
Again, that doesn't solve the long term problem of rising taxes.
Schmitt is saying he wants to "put an end to stealth taxes." Gee, isn't that all the special district taxes that Suozzi wants to tackle but Schmitt attacked him for? "Mr. Suozzi, before you attempt to consolidate Fire Districts, Police Departments, Water Districts, Sanitation and Refuse Districts … clean up your own Department of Social Services which is responsible for this disaster. I say to the County Executive DO YOUR JOB."
Suozzi IS doing his job by trying to coordinate the consolidation of superfluous districts and save taxpayers money.
The County portion on your taxes are only 17% (down from 20%) and the rest is Town/City, Fire, School, Sanitation, Water District and other local taxing entities.
A "freeze" on county assessments will not affect the other 83% of your taxes. Those taxing entities can increase your taxes if they need to.
This proposal sounds good but in the long run means very little to nassau tax payers. Schmitt is reverting to the one-shot gimmicks so popular for years under the rule of Schmitt and the Gulotta Republicans.
And yes, this is a gimmick. There is no long-term tax relief plan from Schmitt. This is just something he can get out into the press and hope to fool voters into thinking he actually does something.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Isn't That Special.... Election that is. The Results are IN.

Sure, sure both special elections were in heavily Democratic areas to fill Sen. Craig Johnsons Nassau Legislature seat and Comptroller DiNapoli's Assembly seat. But does NYS and Nassau GOP boss Joe Mondello need two more defeats under his belt in such a short time?
The results from the special election puts Wayne Wink in the Nassau Legislature and Michelle Schimel in the NYS Assembly.
Here are the numbers....



Schimel - 5,384
Decicco - 899



Wink - 2,872
Chisari - 599

It's like the republicans didn't even try.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Long-Awaited Nassau County Clerk's Office Audit is Out

No wonder O'Connell wanted it supressed until after the special election.

Control of Over $300 Million Annually in Hands of a Single Employee;Weitzman Asks DiNapoli for Comprehensive Audits of County Clerks;Weitzman Directs Clerk to Start Using County’s Accounting System

An audit of the Nassau County Clerk’s Office has found serious weaknesses in the control, oversight, and accounting for hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes and fees that flow through the office annually, Comptroller Howard Weitzman announced today at a Mineola press conference. As a result, Comptroller Weitzman today directed the Clerk’s Office to begin recording all its financial transactions in the county’s financial system and asked the State Comptroller to launch a comprehensive audit of County Clerks’ offices in Nassau and the rest of New York State.
“I have written to State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli,” Comptroller Weitzman said, “asking that he conduct a comprehensive review of the Nassau Clerk’s Office, to determine whether taxpayer funds paid to the Clerk are recorded and distributed appropriately to the state and local governments. I have also asked that he consider reviewing other county clerk operations in light of our findings.
“The Nassau County Clerk’s office has fewer financial controls in place than did the Roslyn School District when it failed to detect a multi-million-dollar embezzlement and fraud,” Comptroller Weitzman said. “We found essentially no accounting system, an utter lack of financial controls - in short, a series of red flags that make the Clerk’s Office exceptionally vulnerable to embezzlement and fraud.
“I want to be clear that our audit did not uncover actual fraud or illegality in the Clerk’s Office. But given the lack of a real accounting system in the Office, such misconduct would not be detected using normal auditing techniques.”
The County Clerk collects more revenue, apart from sales and property taxes, than any other county department, Comptroller Weitzman said, yet has fewer financial controls in place. “We discovered the Office uses a totally inappropriate “Mom and Pop” approach to accounting for annual revenues of more than $300 million a year - and that might be an insult to small businesses everywhere, which generally use more sophisticated accounting procedures and software than what we found in the Clerk’s Office.”

Among the audit’s major findings:
- The Clerk’s Office assigns a single deputy county clerk responsibility for almost all financial transactions - receiving funds, investing them, reconciling bank statements, transferring funds by wire, disbursing funds, and recording transactions - with no oversight, no written procedures, and no back-up staff. “Concentrating all financial duties in the hands of one person means that errors and improprieties can go undetected,” Comptroller Weitzman said.
- The Clerk’s Office does not record most of its financial transactions in the Nassau Integrated Financial System (NIFS). Instead, the Office uses dozens of primitive spreadsheets, subject to frequent manual alteration without proper review, to record most revenues, expenditures, banking transactions and investments.

- Cashiers in the Clerk’s Office have the ability to waive or change fees and taxes without supervisor approval, and are not prevented from doing so by the office’s computerized transaction recording system, known as “BROWNtech.” During a test of three days in December 2005, a total of $398,243 was reported as waived or reduced charges. “Although there are legitimate reasons for fees to be waived in some cases, cashiers could literally waive or discount them at will, without a supervisor’s approval and without noting the reason in the computerized transaction system,” Comptroller Weitzman said.
- The BROWNtech transaction recording system was obtained from a small firm run out of the owner’s home in Massachusetts, and the Clerk has not given the county’s Information Technology department password access to support the system. Technical support is provided personally by the president of the firm via remote access, raising security concerns for sensitive data, and the firm’s small size presents a risk should the company cease to operate or support the program.
- The figures reported in the Clerk’s annual report to the Legislature are internally inconsistent and cannot be reconciled to the spreadsheets prepared by the Clerk’s Office. Auditors noted unexplained inconsistencies totaling at least $366,000 in the 2005 report.
-The Clerk’s Office had no written policy and procedures manuals to document or regulate the way it manages cash, processes mail, receives revenues, disburses payments, invests its funds, or keeps its books.

“The absence of accounting controls that we found in the Clerk’s Office has existed for years, and clearly predates the current Clerk’s administration,” Comptroller Weitzman noted. “However, since the current Clerk took office in January 2006, she has not put in place procedures or a new management team to correct these deficiencies.”
The audit of the Clerk’s Office was delayed for approximately two years, initially due to lack of cooperation from the previous County Clerk, Karen Murphy, who refused to release documents or allow Comptroller’s staff on the premises. After months of delay, the Comptroller ultimately subpoenaed the Clerk’s records, and subsequent litigation resulted in a court order compelling the Clerk’s Office to recognize the Comptroller’s authority to audit. The current Clerk, Maureen O’Connell, did not permit the Comptroller’s Office to begin field work until March 23, 2006.
“Once we began the audit, the Clerk’s Office imposed strict and, in our view, unjustified limitations on the scope of our audit,” Comptroller Weitzman added. “As a result we terminated our field work in September 2006 after having documented the findings contained in this report. Since I became Comptroller in 2002, no other county agency has forbidden our auditors from observing normal operations directly or speaking freely with employees, but that’s what occurred here. In fact during the audit my staff was mostly confined to a conference room in the Clerk’s Office.”

See the full report here. (opens as .pdf)

See the letter to State Comptroller DiNapoli that asks an investigation here. (opens as .pdf)

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Schmitt Loses $10million Defamation Lawsuit Appeal

Republican Legislator Peter Schmitt is being sued by the law firm Crowe-Deegan for defamation. Schmitt has a way of making things up (lying) and this time the people he lied about fought back.
Last April, the State Supreme Court ruled that Schmitt alone was responsible for his lies and he cannot hide behind his "job" as a Nassau Legislator. We reported last April "A State Supreme Court has ruled that Schmitt must bear the cost of the $10million defamation lawsuit against him. Leg. Dave Mejias tells Newsday "The taxpayers of Nassau County should not have to pay for Peter Schmitt's personal, political attacks and lies,"
The lawsuit stems from charges made by Schmitt in 2004 about the law firm of Crowe-Deagan. Schmitt accused the firm of false billing, illegal campaign contributions and tampering with evidence.
The New York Law Journal reports "At a Jan. 12, 2004, news conference and in an accompanying statement, Schmitt said the nine-lawyer firm, which he said was hired to represent several county agencies without bidding, was receiving "exorbitant, unauthorized amounts of money for work they did not perform." He also said the firm had exceeded campaign contribution limits to give "illegal money" to David Mejias, a successful Democratic legislature candidate. "
"Schmitt moved for summary judgment on the grounds that his statements were either true or constitutionally protected opinion. He also argued that the law firm was a public figure unable to meet the actual malice standard set by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1964's New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254.
That landmark case required public figures, such as politicians, suing for defamation to establish that false statements about them were made knowingly or with reckless disregard to the truth of the statements."
State Supreme Court Justice Lally denied a request for dismissal of the lawsuit by Schmitt saying. The case moves forward with the ruling that "Legislator Schmitt made statements ... outside the protection of legislative immunity," which means he is liable for any defamatory comments he makes.
Mejias tells Newsday that this "proves once and for all that Peter Schmitt will say anything, even lie, to take back control of Nassau County....
"The judge ruled that because Schmitt cited actual figures, "While the term exorbitant may constitute protected opinion, language stating that Crowe Deegan received an unauthorized amount of money for 'work they did not perform' and language stating that the firm contributed 'illegal' money 'over the legal limit' to Legislator David Mejias is precise and capable of being proven true or false,"

The scary thing is that Schmitts attorney Paul Millus argued that it's okay for Schmitt to lie. He actually makes a case for lying "Politicians have to have the flexibility to say things in the public interest."

So now we come to this past week where the Appelate Court ruled that the lawsuit can go forward
Here is the ruling...

In an action, inter alia, to recover damages for defamation, the defendant appeals from an order of the Supreme Court, Nassau County (Lally, J.), entered April 14, 2006, which denied his motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint.

ORDERED that the order is modified, on the law, by deleting the provision thereof denying that branch of the defendant's motion which was for summary judgment dismissing so much of the third cause of action as alleged defamation, libel, and libel per se, based on the challenged statement appearing in the Newsday article dated February 29, 2004, and substituting therefor a provision granting that branch of the motion; as so modified, the order is affirmed, with costs to the plaintiff.

The challenged statement appearing in the Newsday article dated February 29, 2004, made by the defendant during the course of a legislative hearing, is entitled to absolute privilege (see Park Knoll Assoc. v Schmidt, 59 NY2d 205, 209; Schettino v Alter, 140 AD2d 600, 601-602).

In response to the defendant's showing of his prima facie entitlement to summary judgment dismissing the remainder of the complaint (see Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., 68 NY2d 320), the plaintiff demonstrated the existence of an issue of fact from which a reasonable jury could find "actual malice with convincing clarity" (Bose Corp. v Consumers Union of United States, Inc., 466 US 485, 514; see New York Times Co. v Sullivan, 376 US 254, 279-280; Prozeralik v Capital Cities Communications, 82 NY2d 466, 474-475).

The defendant's remaining contentions are without merit.

Friday, March 16, 2007

There's a New Hempstead Blog in Town

Look out Kate Murray, residents in West Hempstead are getting tired of your inaction regarding the crime-ridden Courtesy Hotel.
We welcome Close the Courtesy Hotel to our blogroll.
Their newest update questions why nothing has been done after 6 years.

"What's Old Is New Again???

How Quickly We Are Asked To Forget, As History At The Courtesy Repeats Itself -- Again, Again, And Again!"

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Why is Ed Ward the Spokesman for the Nassau Republicans in the Legislature making $80,000?

This is another example of the hard work he does...
This is a "press release" from republican legislators. Could Ward have spent a few minutes to even try to make them different for each legislator??

"Legislator Dunne Votes to Provide Relief from Real Property Taxes
...Legislator Dunne will continue his fight on behalf of Nassau County residents to provide relief from escalating real property taxes. “I hope all qualified residents will apply for this relief. If any resident has any questions, please call me at 516-571-6215,” continued Legislator Dunne."

"Legislator Schmitt Votes to Provide Relief from Real Property Taxes
...Legislator Schmitt will continue his fight on behalf of Nassau County residents to provide relief from escalating real property taxes. “I hope all qualified residents will apply for this relief. If any resident has any questions, please call me at 516-571-6212,” continued Legislator Schmitt."

"Legislator Nicolello Votes to Provide Relief from Real Property Taxes
...Legislator Nicolello will continue his fight on behalf of Nassau County residents to provide relief from escalating real property taxes. “I hope all qualified residents will apply for this relief. If any resident has any questions, please call me at 516-571-6209,” continued Legislator Nicolello."

"Legislator Ford Votes to Provide Relief from Real Property Taxes
...Legislator Ford will continue her fight on behalf of Nassau County residents to provide relief from escalating real property taxes. “I hope all qualified residents will apply for this relief. If any resident has any questions, please call me at 516-571-6204,” continued Legislator Ford."

"Legislator Becker Votes to Provide Relief from Real Property Taxes
...Legislator Becker will continue his fight on behalf of Nassau County residents to provide relief from escalating real property taxes. “I hope all qualified residents will apply for this relief. If any resident has any questions, please call me at 516-571-6206,” continued Legislator Becker."

"Legislator Ciotti Votes to Provide Relief from Real Property Taxes
...Legislator Ciotti will continue his fight on behalf of Nassau County residents to provide relief from escalating real property taxes. “I hope all qualified residents will apply for this relief. If any resident has any questions, please call me at 516-571-6203,” continued Legislator Ciotti."

So they ALL said the same exact thing?
Nah, just a cut and paste job by Ward.
If Schmitt and the rest of the Gulotta republicans want to save the county money, lets start with the overpaid Ward.

Not only does Ward get $80,000 for a part-time job but he is VP-Legal Affairs at Nassau Community College.
Should'nt a part-time slary reflect part-time?
Imagine his salary if he was a full-time spokesman.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Venditto Acts With His Finger in the Air to See Which Way the Wind is Blowing

And Newsday takes him to task on it.

Newsday points out the incredible lack of vision and leadership of TOBAY Supervisor John Venditto. Keep in mind, a project in his own backyard "the calming of Broadway" in N. Massapequa has been a 6+ year mess.
Since Wang can just build what the property is zoned for, the community and the Town of Oyster Bay lose a chance to be a part of a developers planning process. What could be the start of a new Long Island, the property will now be the same old development that continues to blight and crowd Long Island. Wang held his hand out in cooperation and instead of meeting halfway, Venditto smacked the hand away.
Three cheers for Venditto on squandering the perfect chance to give Long Island developers a push in the right direction.

No vision in Oyster Bay
Instead of leading on Wang proposal, Venditto just bends with the wind

March 9, 2007
Smart growth can't happen without smart leadership.
Clearly, there is none in the Town of Oyster Bay. The decision by the developers of the Old Plainview project to withdraw their ambitious and intelligent proposal demonstrates once again that Supervisor John Venditto doesn't have the vision needed to move his town into the future. Charles Wang and Scott Rechler abruptly withdrew their 166-acre mixed-use project on Tuesday evening, after it had become clear that Venditto was willing to let another worthy development turn into a protracted battle with some NIMBY civic groups. Wang says he will now go ahead and construct what the current zoning allows - two big office buildings and 45 single-family homes - but definitely not what Long Island needs. While Wang needs to bring the heat down to a simmer, Venditto needs to step forward and broker a compromise for the land bounded by Round Swamp and Old County roads, just off the Long Island Expressway. A deal that lowers the density somewhat but increases the allotment of senior and next-generation housing would still keep the best of the original proposal. This mix of townhouse homes, rental apartments, offices, a hotel and supermarket plus 40 acres of parkland would be a big step toward sustainable growth. Unfortunately, there is no public transportation link.
To sweeten the pot, the developers had also agreed to give $6.5 million to the Plainview-Old Bethpage School District for capital spending, on top of an estimated $5 million a year in tax revenues.
The Oyster Bay supervisor should be making his town a showcase for the reinvention of suburbia. Instead, under his watch the town is stagnating: The Cerro Wire site in Syosset is tied up in a legal battle, Avalon Bay's attempt to build apartments in the hamlet of Oyster Bay is stalled and smaller projects, even a supermarket, are trapped by indecision.
Of course, Venditto's proclivity to cede his power to the rabble is aided by the silence of those who support Old Plainview or the development concepts it embodies - especially those professional associations and foundations who talk the talk about smart growth but who won't walk the walk. Venditto needs to find his voice as well and start a dialogue about how Old Plainview could be made to work.