Calls for Adelson to return the taxpayer's $20,000 and to hold a public city council vote: DA asked to investigate for criminal activity.
It appears City Council President Fran Adelson may be in a better position to pay the 16 percent property tax increase her administration is proposing. That is because despite her attempts to keep the award quiet, it has been revealed that she was quickly and silently awarded $20,000 courtesy of Long Beach taxpayers.
Recently obtained city documents reveal that just a few weeks before Council Member-Elect Adelson was sworn into office the city wrote her a whopping $20,000 taxpayer funded check to settle a frivolous lawsuit she and her husband filed against the city. Adelson's $20,000 tax payer funded award was the result of a lawsuit filed by Adelson and her husband Steven. The lawsuit claimed that while she was on the boardwalk she "fell on sand" and "lacerated" (cut) her knee. It appears her husband wasn't even with her when the injury occurred, but he sued the city as well.
Since taking office in January, Adelson, Mandell, Torres and Schnirman have been very vocal and critical about many last minute financial decisions that were made in the closing days of 2011. The city was eerily quiet about the matter, until Adelson was forced to respond to a Freedom of Information Request. The Freedom of information Law (FOIL) requires that the city release public documents to someone within 30 days of the request. I filed my FOIL request for the settlement documents on March 1, 2012. The city finally and reluctantly released the documents on the 32nd day, at 5:07pm after a being reminded of the legal time limit. So much for change and transparency!
The $20,000 award to Adelson is $5,000 short of the legal amount needed for public City Council approval. There was no press release, no announcement, no City Council resolution, and ironically no criticism of this particular 11th hour expense during a “fiscal crisis." City Manager Jack Schnirman was quoted in the Long Beach Herald saying, “All last-minute decisions done at the eleventh hour that were unbudgeted are always under review by an incoming administration.” He was also quoted stating that, “The real question is why were many unbudgeted, unaffordable expenses done during a fiscal crisis, at the eleventh hour, by an administration on its way out the door?” Did Mr. Schnirman, Adelson and the members of the City Council overlook this particular 11th hour unbudgeted expense? They obviously did, but the question is why? Especially when one of the central themes of their campaign was “transparency”!
The new administration has scrutinized and criticized nearly every single financial decision made by former City Manager Charles Theofan. In fact, many of the expenses he approved in November through December were rescinded and/or reversed. In fact, some decisions he made in August were reversed . Schnirman, Adelson, Mandel, and Torres have publicly called Theofan's fiscal decisions reckless, and in some cases called for criminal investigations. But for some reason Adelson's 11th hour $20,000 award slipped right through the radar; no comment, no criticism, no reversal despite the fiscal crisis the city was supposedly facing. Why did the new administration approve of Theofan's decision in this matter, but criticize and publicly condemn nearly every other?
Adding insult to injury at the same exact time Adelson was quietly negotiating her own $20,000 taxpayer funded award she was in court trying to get a judge to stop LB Police Commissioner Tom Sofield Sr. from collecting the unused sick, vacation, and compensatory time he had accumulated over a distinguished thirty-five year career. Adelson, Mandel and Torres claimed that because of the financial mismanagement of the prior administration the city was having trouble making payroll, was in a fiscal crisis and thus couldn't afford to pay Sofield his hard earned and contractually owed money. This is typical Adelson: On one hand the fiscal crisis should prevent others from getting paid their hard-earned money but she should get hers right then and there despite the city's fiscal woes. This is nothing short of hypocritical, yet it is typical of this new administration. For the record, the court denied Adelson's request to stop Sofield's payment and the case was thrown out of court promptly.
Just two months ago the city council approved a similar $25,000 settlement with Long Beach Police Benevolent Association (PBA) President Stephan Chernawski. The Long Beach PBA, under Chernawski’s leadership, endorsed, donated to, and campaigned extensively for the Adelson, Torres, Mandel and legislative candidate Darlene Tangney. Like Adelson's award, this one did not meet the legal requirement for city council approval.
Despite that, however, President Adelson insisted that and brought to a public city council vote, specifically for reasons of public transparency. That matter was voted on and approved by the City Council in March. If, for reasons of transparency, Adelson and the rest of the city insisted on a public council vote on Chernawski’s award, why didn’t they feel the need for a public city council vote on Adelson’s personal award of a similar amount? Why publicly vote on Chernawski’s award but not on Adelson’s?
Adelson's $20,000 award and settlement raises a number of serious questions:
- Is it simply a coincidence that this case was settled after Adelson won the election and just before before she took office?
- City Manager Jack Schnirman as well as Fran Adelson, Len Torres, and Scott Mandel reviewed, criticized and reversed many “last minute” or “11th hour decisions” that were made in the last days of the outgoing administration. Why were they so quiet about the settlement of Adelson’s case for $20,000? They obviously reviewed all “11th hour decisions” very closely because many were reversed and/or rescinded; why is it that no one questioned or objected to this particular expense?
- Did anyone from City Hall contact Adelson in her capacity as councilmember-elect to informally offer her the settlement, or did it go through proper legal channels?
- Was there any “quid pro quo” in the settlement of this case? Was anyone offering this settlement in an effort to befriend Adelson and possible save themselves from being fired ion January when she "cleaned house"?
- Did anyone contact Council Members-Elect Torres, Fagen, and/or Mandel about the settlement? Did they approve or disapprove in any way?
It is also my understanding that President Adelson’s husband Steven was also suing the city even though he may not have even been with Ms. Adelson when the accident occurred. Was he awarded any money, and if so, why and how much? In addition, how much did President Adelson’s attorney, Larry Elovich, receive for representing Adelson?
Time and time again Adelson, Mandel, and Torres have condemned the actions of the prior administration. Yet, for five months, time and time again they have not held themselves to the same standard to which they held the prior administration; that is unacceptable, especially in light of the campaign they ran and the promises they made.
They criticized the prior administration for hiring “friends and family” to City Hall jobs and as a result they made a public pledge they wouldn’t hire any family or friends. Yet, to date, since Jan. 3 has been a family member, friend and/or political supporter of Adelson, Torres, Mandel, and/or Schnirman. In fact, just last week, Adelson’s best friend, Johanna Mathieson was hired to head the City’s Youth & Family Services Department. Adelson, Mandel, and Torres also hired former Democrat candidate and political operative Larry Benowitz, who on top of his $30,000 part time salary (with no experience in the job) also collects a Social Security pension. In addition, they hired longtime supporter Mike Cruz to a $30,000 part time job while he is also is collecting a $37,000/year pension from the city!
As candidates, Adelson, Torres, and Mandel criticized the prior administration for their “lack of transparency” and they made a public pledge to be transparent in their actions. They have repeatedly broken this pledge as well, especially by not publicly disclosing and publicly voting on Adelson’s $20,000 award.
Some will say, “Jim, how come you never complained about these things when the Coalition was in power,” like these questions somehow excuse Adelson’s actions. The difference is that as candidates Adelson, Torres, and Mandel made these very specific public pledges regarding transparency and promising not to hire friends and family during their campaign - only to break them time and time again.
In 2001, I sued the city and the Chief of Lifeguards, Steve Kohut, for violating my civil rights when he fired me from my lifeguard job in retaliation for my nearly winning the City cCouncil election that year. Two years later, like Adelson, I settled my case just before I took office in 2004. Here is the difference: I did not take one single penny from the city or anyone else; not in lost wages totaling over $30,000, compensatory damages, nor in punitive damages that were valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. I always said, ”I just wanted my lifeguard job back- it was about the principle," and that is all I received in my settlement. I was reappointed to my summer lifeguard job! I felt very strongly that the taxpayers of Long Beach shouldn’t have to pay for the mean spirited, vindictive, unethical, illegal, and politically motivated actions of Steve Kohut and the clubhouse political boss at the time. By the way, Steve Kohut was Adelson, Torres, and Mandel's campaign manager - that itself speaks volumes.
In light of these revelations I am calling on President Adelson to return the money immediately, and bring the matter to a public, transparent City Council vote.
Adelson was quick to support rescinding the promotions and raises of 15 CSEA employees totaling $50,000 that were supposedly promoted in December ( because they were “11th hour” decisions. Because her settlement was also an “11th hour” agreement, she should give the money back and put the matter to a public City Council vote.
Furthermore, she should abstain from any voting on the matter, as a conflict of interest exists. She was quick to take money from the pockets of the 15 hard working CSEA city employees; let’s see if she is willing to hold herself to the same standard.
Furthermore, I am calling on the other members of the City Council to urge Adelson to return the money and to hold a public vote in the spirit of the transparency they promised during the campaign. As a result of a public vote residents will be able to ask the essential questions and get answers regarding the nature and merits of the case and the settlement. Or, the City Council should let the case to go to trial and let an impartial jury decide the merits of the case and what, if any money, Adelson should be awarded.
In addition, I am calling on the Adelson and the council to make public all privileged and non-privileged documents, memorandums, communications and emails relating to the case, including any communications and documents between the corporation counsel’s office and former City Manager Theofan or any city officer regarding every aspect of the case and the settlement.
During the campaign, Adelson had a lot to say about how the city should give out information relevant to the city’s operations and specifically talked about the Freedom of Information. In October, Adelson called for ".” As a candidate she made it clear the she wanted to give the public access to as much information as possible regarding the city’s operations. Here is her chance to put her money where her mouth is.
Furthermore, President Adelson should waive her right to privacy regarding and all related legal documents and release them to the public prior to the meeting. All documents, including the transcript of her hearing appearances, should be made available to the public with the council agenda prior to the council vote so we can have time to review them and prepare appropriate questions.
Finally, I am calling for Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice to investigate the entire matter to determine if there was any criminal activity involved.
This is an opportunity for President Adelson and all members of the new City Council and City Manager Jack Schnirman to put their words into action and be truly transparent. If a real fiscal emergency existed and ever expense was scrutinized under a microscope this one should be handled with equal vigor.
Let’s see if Adelson, Mandel, Torres and Schnirman will hold themselves to the same standard to which they have held everyone else.