“There is almost no country in Africa where it is not essential to know to which tribe, or which subgroup of which tribe, the President belongs. From this single piece of information you can trace the lines of patronage and allegiance that define the state.”
(Christopher Hitchens in Vanity Fair)
The Clarkstown Town Board gave a pink slip to Independence Party political lightweight, Marsha Coopersmith, and conducting the Town’s tax certiorari matters to Bronx Republican Party Chairman political heavyweight, Jay Savino.
Since then continue to be raised by Councilwoman Hausner's comment that others were more qualified to do this job and Savino comes to Clarkstown with "". A simple Google News search conducted by the Clarkstown Taxpayers Organization makes one wonder if the "baggage” to which Councilwoman Hausner alludes refers to some of Mr. Savino's acquaintances who seem to have got themselves into a mess of legal trouble.
For example, a March 2012 corruption trial in Manhattan ended in a conviction of two defendants following testimony from a disgraced White Plains lawyer, Anthony Mangone, who was himself indicted in a Yonkers bribery scheme and testified under a plea deal agreement.
Earlier in September 15, 2010, The Daily News reported that:
"One subject of (an electronic voting machines) probe is White Plains lawyer Anthony Mangone, who was hired as an Election Systems & Software lobbyist last year - and was later indicted in an unrelated Yonkers bribery scheme. Mangone has links to Bronx Republican leader Jay Savino, who was subpoenaed in February along with the Bronx GOP's rep on the Board of Elections. Both have denied wrongdoing."
According to the Yonkers Tribune:
"Savino was instrumental in steering the New York City Board of Elections toward choosing the voting machines that are the rationale for a continuing FBI investigation that connects Anthony Mangone and the New York City Board of Elections voting machine contract."
Mangone pleaded guilty to tax fraud charges and in a series of articles we learn more about his service as a lobbyist for Election Systems & Software, ES&S, a company that was awarded a $40 Million contract by NYC. ES&S couldn’t get the contract until they hired Mangone who operated under the rubric of Mardon Consulting at 399 Knollwood Road, Suite 301 where Savino had an office.
One of the NYC Commissioners awarding the contract to ES&S was a person named J.C. Polanco. Polanco became a commissioner after Savino stepped down to run for State Senate. Polanco was Savino's deputy in Savino's position as the Chairman of the Bronx GOP. Polanco claimed he only knew Mangone through his work in Republican party politics.
New City resident Tom Nimick has been particularly persistent in asking the Town Board to explain its actions in terms of the process that was used and whether that process conformed with the NY State Open Meetings Law. Documents have been filed with the office of Robert Freeman, Executive Director NY State Open Meetings Law, asking for a review of the Town Board's actions.
The Town has been extremely reticent in providing details of the process used in Mr. Savino's appointment. For example, Mr. Nimick has pointed out that nowhere in the Board's Minutes could he find any reference to:
a) any discussion about the appointment,
b) any development of parameters for interviews of the firms, or
c) any authorization of the Town Attorney to research law firms.
The Clarkstown Taxpayers feel that neither Mr. Gromack nor Ms. Mele has given any satisfactory answers that resolve Nimick's questions. Mr. Gromack has offered a comment that the Town would save on future tax certiorari expenditures while Town Attorney, Mele, said that Savino was 'properly vetted'.
In an in Patch the Town Board was asked why it is outsourcing work and Clarkstown tax dollars to an individual who, according to his voter registration file, does not claim residence in Clarkstown. The Rockland County Clerk's Land Records shows Savino sold a property at 2 Kohler Court in Congers listing Savino and his wife, (maiden name, Sarter), as owners. Subsequently a property was purchased at 140 Waters Edge in Congers, a street adjoining that on which Supervisor Gromack lives, listing the owners as Savino's wife and her mother, Laura Sarter. A Google search indicates that Mangone was the closing lawyer. Savino is alleged to use an address in the Bronx as his registered voting address.
The Town has not been forthcoming with the criteria, if any, that were used to reject Rockland County law firms and choose Savino's Westchester firm and Clarkstown Taxpayers do not know if a bidding process was used and if so how many Rockland County law firms were invited to bid.
One Board Member, Stephanie Hausner, has that:
"There are more qualified firms in the County that have more experience handling tax certiorari .... that is primarily what we were looking to hire a firm to do." She also said: "there are individuals more qualified (than Savino) .. they may not come with baggage".
Which firms are more qualified and why they were rejected by Town Attorney Mele and Supervisor Gromack remains a mystery. Indeed when questions are raised they are usually met with dismissive comments by the Town Attorney. Consider, for example her comments in an article appearing on the front page of the Journal News entitled 'Municipal Cases New For Clarkstown’s Tax Attorney', Ms. Mele said about the hiring of Savino: “If it is criticized, so be it”. She "wasn't worried" he had no experience in representing Towns in tax certiorari cases and “she is not concerned about criticism the Town has hired a person with political clout”.
Let us apply the 'Hitchens' Africa' maxim to 'Gromack's Clarkstown' where the Clarkstown Taxpayers have traced what appear to be clear lines of patronage and allegiances:
a) Town Attorney Marsha Coopersmith, who until December 31, 2011 conducted the Town's tax cert matters, was Chair of the Independence Party. She controlled that election line and Mr. Gromack ran on it.
b) Coopersmith was subsequently ousted by Debra Ortutay and Ortutay then controlled the Independence Party election line.
c) Ortutay is the mother-in-law of Republican, Frank Sparaco, who serves in the Rockland County Legislature. Sparaco is believed by many to be a protege of Rockland County Republican Chairman, Vinny Reda.
d) Ortutay resigned under indictment for perjury and fraud and served a prison sentence in the Rockland County Jail having on December 6, 2011, pleaded guilty to perjury and falsifying records.
e) Ortutay was represented in court by Bronx GOP Chairman Jay Savino, who is reported to be friends with her son-in-law, Sparaco, as well as Rockland GOP chair, Vinny Reda. It is believed that Savino is in line to be the next Rockland County GOP chair. Reda, who is over 75 years old, has run the Rockland GOP for almost 20 years. He is reported to have been instrumental in Savino getting the patronage job of tax certiorari in Clarkstown.
f) Savino contributed financially in 2011 to the Independence Party of Rockland previously headed by Ortutay and Coopersmith.
g) The Board allowed Deputy Town Attorney Coopersmith's contract to expire and then outsourced her tax work to Ortutay's attorney, Jay Savino, for an annual 'retainer fee' of $87,000 saying that the decision was made to save money as part of an ongoing consolidation of government services.
With the above history one would expect that Town Attorney Mele and Supervisor Gromack would be quite able to state that they know perfectly well who Mr. Savino is, how he came to be given an $87,000 per year 'retainer fee', why he is the most qualified candidate in their opinion to conduct the Town's tax certiorari matters, and why Councilwoman Hausner believes that he comes with "baggage".
Yet at a on May 1, 2012 when New City resident, Mr. Nimick, asked Town Attorney Mele a very simple question as to how Mr. Savino's name came to her attention with regard to tax certiorari work she stated that she "wasn't sure". Mr. Gromack then stumbled his way to offering a 'maybe' and a 'probably' as part of his response before revealing that Mr. Savino may have had a telephone call placed to the Town Attorney's office.
What follows is a partial transcript of Mr. Nimick's question as to who brought Jay Savino's name to the attention of the Town Attorney.
Nimick: Ms. Mele, I want to address this question to you because in my about procedures (in the Town Board) which we pursuing in different venues, I used the retention of Mr. Jay Savino as an example. But I find that your evasive answers concerning the retention of Mr. Savino has piqued my interest about that particular action .....
In our previous conversation about it you stated that Mr. Gromack asked YOU to research and interview law firms to perform tax certiorari work .....There is one aspect of this that I find quite puzzling and I hope you can clarify as a public official conducting public business. When you went to research firms to carry out tax certiorari work for the Town, how did Mr. Savino’s firm come to your attention? It is public knowledge that his firm did not claim any experience in tax certiorari work as stated in the resolution – indeed tax certiorari work was added to the firm’s web site only after an inquiry from journalists about the discrepancy .....
(Long pause during which Ms. Mele consulted in hushed tones with Mr. Gromack)
Nimick patiently awaited a response and then interrupted the whispered conversation by saying to the Town Attorney:
Nimick: It (the question) is addressed to you.
Mele: Yes ... I know ....it's addressed to me. I am honestly not sure who brought it to my attention. Like I said I interviewed several firms ........ but to be very honest with you, I am not sure whether it was a Board member or the Supervisor who brought that firm to my attention.
Nimick: Any member of the Board care to comment?
Gromack: The Town Attorney interviewed a number of individuals and came to the conclusion that Mr. Savino could handle the work and eh....
Nimick (interrupting): But you see, Mr. Gromack, he is not an obvious ...... if she (Town Attorney, Mele) was to go out and research and interview firms, his firm was not an obvious initial choice.
Gromack: Maybe it was someone that was proactive from his firm that contacted the Town Attorney's office and said ‘if there was ever an opportunity please give me a call’. So we get calls from other attorneys, not necessarily recommendations from members of the Board here. Very often attorneys will either make a phone call, or contact the Town Attorneys' office and say ‘in the future if there is work that my firm can do for the Town I would like to be considered’. And that's probably the way it happened. It was an Outreach from him to the Town.
At the Town Board meeting of May 15, 2012 Attorney Kevin Hobbs of New City said that he had read of Mr Nimick's question in New City Patch and he wished to know which firms Ms Mele had interviewed. Mele replied that she couldn't recall the names of the firms she interviewed but she had the information in her office. Mr Gromack then added the following comment:
Gromack: "Sorry that you may have missed one of the meetings but we certainly thoroughly went over the Savino discussion ..... My recollection is that this individual some time ago made an inquiry and said if there was ever an opportunity to be interviewed he certainly would like to be considered. He and several others were interviewed. He is certainly an individual that does handle tax cert work contrary to what you think. In fact the productivity of his work has been of a very high caliber and we have saved $75,000."
Supervisor Gromack and Town Attorney Mele appear unwilling or incapable of giving a better explanation to the public than "I am not sure", "maybe", "probably" and "sorry" as to why we are paying the Chairman of the Bronx Republican Party $87,000 of our tax monies to conduct the Town's tax certiorari business.
If Ms. Mele as the Town Attorney has "properly vetted" Attorney Savino the Clarkstown Taxpayers must assume she also did the same Google search as it did and was aware of the alleged conduct of Mr. Savino with respect to a request which came from a Federal judge.
In 2004, as part of a plea bargain, State Senator Guy Velella and former Chairman of the Bronx Republican party resigned his seat and served time on criminal charges that he took bribes to help businesses win lucrative state contracts. The bribes were in the form of payments to Velellas' law firm for little or no work.
Wiretap affidavits compiled in the Velella investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau allegedly picked up Savino talking about how, at Velella's suggestion, he wasn't going to look too hard to find several Republican campaign workers whose presence in court had been demanded by a federal judge. Savino was allegedly heard telling another party aide on the wiretap:
"I would do what the Boss said. I would .... I would call them, and if you reach them, you reach them; if you don't, you don't. You know, you might not reach them because your phone clicks off. I ..., I ...., I guess do what he says, I don't know what to say. That's what I would do, I would just forget about it maybe."
Attorney Savino, who has been retained by the Town of Clarkstown for his legal skills, is alleged to have suggested that a Federal judge's request for assistance in a legal proceeding should be dealt with by having one's phone 'click off' or that one should just 'forget about it maybe'. Yet, a call by Mr. Savino seeking business from the Town of Clarkstown goes straight through and the Town Attorney seems to have forgotten about it, maybe?
The Clarkstown Taxpayers feel that the Town Board needs to explain to the citizens of Clarkstown its interviewing and vetting process as it pertained to Mr Savino's retention. Otherwise, 'Gromack's Clarkstown' is in danger of becoming 'Hitchen's Africa'.