The Town That Lied?

The Chairman of the Bronx GOP, Jay Savino, was again retained by the Clarkstown Town Board without a competitive bidding process and using a grossly flawed resolution.

Last year serious questions were raised by the Clarkstown Taxpayers Group about Jay Savino's fitness to be appointed to a position in the Town of Clarkstown conducting its tax certiorari work. Throughout the year the Town Board has given evasive answers when questioned about this matter and has sometimes had to rely on word parsing to correct their past statements.

Here is an example of such parsing ....

Tom Nimick, a Clarkstown resident, had previously made several attempts to have the Clarkstown Town Board explain how it has not violated the Open Meetings Law with respect to the decisions that were made to retain Savino in January 2012. At the Board meeting on March 20,2012 Nimick read a statement in which he said:

I regret that I need to be persistent with you regarding Resolution #38-2012 concerning the retention of Mr. Savino and related violations of the Open Meetings Law. Your responses and public statements have resulted in contradictions. When I asked when this decision was made, Mr. Gromack AND Ms. Mele both replied that the decision was made in executive session. When I asked where the minutes reflecting the decision were, as required by the Open Meetings Law, I was informed that there were no minutes.  So the resolution was based upon a decision having been made; the decision was made in executive session; but there are no minutes because no decisions have been made in executive session.  The contradictions in those statements are the nub of the issue and I am asking for you to resolve these contradictions.

Supervisor Alex Gromack opined mid-way through Nimick's comments that "we have an answer". He subsequently went on to deny the wording of what Nimick had noted during a previous phone conversation with him and the Town Attorney by saying:

I do want to clarify and I apologize if you 'think' or 'heard' that I said that a 'decision' was made; it was a 'discussion'. I just want to clarify that. We had a 'discussion' in executive session. 

How quickly Mr. Gromack's ‘decision’ became a ‘discussion’ when under the Open Meetings Law having made a ‘decision’ in Executive Session without minutes would have been a violation of the law. Emerging from this foggy labyrinth, Mr. Gromack then handed the matter off to Town Attorney Mele for further clarification without offering any explanation as to why the issue of hiring a legal firm to handle the tax cert matters for the Town was of such a sensitive nature that it had to be discussed in Executive Session with no minutes being recorded of the meeting. 

At the Town Board meeting of June 19, 2012 Ralph Sabatini, 2011 Republican Candidate for Supervisor, addressed the board about its continuing evasiveness:

Sabatini: For the record my name is Ralph Sabatini and I live in New City. Good Evening. Several citizens would like to ask each of you some questions about the decision-making behind the Board’s 4-1 vote on Resolution #38-2012 to retain Bronx Republican Party chairman, Mr. Jay Savino, to handle the Town's Tax Certiorari matters.   

1) Town Attorney Marsha Coopersmith, who until December 31, 2011 conducted the Town's tax cert matters, was also Chair of the Independence Party. She controlled that election line and Mr. Gromack ran on that line.

2) Ms. Coopersmith was ousted from the Chair (of the Independence Party) by Debra Ortutay and Ms. Ortutay then controlled that party’s election line.

3) Ms. Ortutay is the mother-in-law of Republican, Frank Sparaco, who is currently serving in the Rockland County Legislature as minority leader.

4) Ms Ortutay resigned from the Chair of the Independence Party after being indicted for perjury and fraud and subsequently served a prison sentence in the Rockland County Jail having pleaded guilty to perjury and falsifying records.

5) The attorney representing Ms. Ortutay at trial was Mr. Jay Savino.

6) Mr. Savino is the Bronx Republican Party Chairman.

7) Mr. Savino contributed financially in 2011 to the Independence Party of Rockland previously headed by Ms Ortutay and Ms Coopersmith.

8) The Board decided not to renew Attorney Coopersmith's contract and then outsourced her tax work to Ms. Ortutay's attorney, Mr. Jay Savino, for an annual 'retainer fee' of $87,000. Mr. Gromack said that the decision was made to save money as part of an ongoing consolidation of government services.

9) On May 1, 2012, in response to Mr. Nimick’s question to Ms. Mele about how Mr. Savino's name came to her attention, Ms Mele replied that she was "not sure whether it was a Board member or the Supervisor who brought Savino's firm to her attention".  Mr. Gromack followed up by saying "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".  Mr. Gromack then went on to remark: "And that's probably the way it was.  It was an outreach from him to the Town".

Now it is hard to believe that the Town Board is simply imititating the gang that couldn't shoot straight. Savino is Chairman of the Bronx Republican Party. He is also a lawyer and therefore he is an 'officer of the court'. Yet he was apparently caught on an FBI wiretap saying things not helpful to a judge of the Federal court. This occurred during criminal proceedings against Mr. Guy Velella, former Chairman of the Bronx Republican party. The proceedings introduced wiretaps that included statements by Mr. Savino. A federal judge had demanded the presence in court of several Republican campaign workers.  The wiretaps picked up Mr. Savino talking about how he wasn't going to look too hard to find the campaign workers. Savino was 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." 

In numerous public meetings over the past year the Town Board has been questioned about the bidding process the Town followed to retain Savino to conduct the Town's Tax Certiorari work. It was revealed that Town Attorney Mele did not conduct a proper bidding process and that Mr Savino's appointment was an appointment of pure patronage.  Through Freedom of Information requests to the Town one law firm 'invited' to bid already knew of Savino's oral bid and refused to bid itself saying that the work could not be performed for the amount Savino was claiming.  The dates of the email correspondence from this firm and one other law firm were strangely both dated January 3, 2012, the same date that Mr Gromack announced Savino's retention nearly one year ago.

Which brings us to a Journal News article of December 21, 2012 entitled 'Clarkstown rehires party chief, praises Jay Savino for tax-certiorari work' which stated:

The Clarkstown Town Board voted unanimously to rehire Jay Savino, the Bronx Republican Party chairman, to handle tax certioraris for the town, reigniting criticism from some residents who opposed his appointment earlier this year. Town Board member Stephanie Hausner, who cited “baggage” in voting against hiring Savino in January, said her concerns had been resolved. The vote gave Savino a $1,740 raise, up from $87,000 in 2012.

Savino was hired on January 3, 2011 in a 4-1 vote of the Town Board to fill in for the work previously performed by Marsha Coopersmith, the deputy town attorney whose position was terminated after 15-plus years with the town. Coopersmith was the Rockland County Independence Party chairwoman before she lost her position in 2010. She was replaced as party chairwoman by Debra Ortutay of Valley Cottage, who resigned in December 2011 after pleading guilty to perjury and forgery charges. Savino was her attorney. The town later hired Frank Sparaco, Ortutay’s son-in-law and a Rockland County legislator and minority chair, for a part-time position that pays $75,000.

Much of the criticism against Savino comes from local blogs that suggest he was recorded on a wiretap during an FBI investigation into Guy Velella, his political boss at the time, who was charged with taking a bribe. That issue came up again Thursday when Michael Hull asked Town Board members whether they were voting to rehire him despite these concerns.

 “Is it your position that there are no law firms or lawyers in Rockland County capable of doing tax-cert work for this board who do not have what might be charitably called a ‘cloud’ associated with their past behavior?” said Hull, a Bardonia resident.

“I found nothing that told me he was under investigation or faced charges,” said Frank Borelli. George Hoehmann agreed. “There are a lot of things out there in the Internet. There are a lot of things out on blogs,” he said. “There is nothing that is of a factual nature.” 

Savino said the criminal charges were against Velella and he was in no way involved.

During the Town Board meeting described by the Journal News the leader of the 'gang that can't shoot straight' Town Attorney, Amy Mele, shot herself in the foot when she produced a resolution showing that the Town apparently can not keep its own fabrications straight.

Agenda item #8 was a resolution indicating that the Town had put the Town's Tax Certiorari work for 2013 out to bid, as it had claimed it did before Savino was hired in January 2012. The resolution stated that Town Attorney Mele had interviewed numerous firms and that Mr Savino's bid had again won with the lowest bid of $88,740 a $1,740 increase over 2012.  

The date in the resolution was correct, the amount to be paid to Savino in 2013 was correct, but everything else in the resolution was a lie.

Here is the exact text of the Resolution that the Town Attorney placed before the Town Board, published on the Town's website and which the Board members were asked to vote on when none of them had obviously even read the document they were being asked to approve.

Resolution Authorizing An Agreement With The Law Office of Joseph J. Savino To Handle Tax Certiorari Matters.

WHEREAS, the Town Board, in its continuing effort to reduce costs, has explored whether it would be more cost effective to retain the services of an outside firm to handle tax certiorari matters; and

WHEREAS, the Town Attorney has researched and interviewed law firms with experience in such matters and has requested rates and proposals from said firms; and

WHEREAS, the Town Attorney has received a proposal from the law office of Joseph J. Savino to provide said services for and annual retainer of $88,740, which proposal is the most competitive of those received; and

WHEREAS, the Town Attorney recommends acceptance of said proposal;

Now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that the Supervisor is hereby authorized to enter into an agreement, in a form approved by the Town Attorney, to retain the Law office of Joseph J. Savino, 399 Knollwood Road, White Plains, New York 10603, to handle all tax certiorari matters on behalf of the Town for the year 2013 for an annual retainer of $88,740, which retainer shall be remitted on a monthly basis.

Dated:  December 20, 2012

During the question time about agenda items my colleague, Tom Nimick, asked a very simple question.  

Did the resolution that the Board was about to vote on represent the facts? 

The Board initially disregarded Nimick's question and were about to proceed to vote but Nimick interrupted their process and raised the issue again.  

Here is the discussion that followed:

Nimick:  Mr. Gromack there remains the question about the selection process that is indicated in the resolution which has not been addressed.

Gromack (dismissing Nimick's concerns):  I think we have handled that numerous times .....

Nimick:  I'm sorry but the resolution says that the selection process was done again.  I am asking for clarification on the selection process followed this year in the light of what we learned about the process for selecting Savino last year (See Who Watches the Watchmen).

There then followed a prolonged and whispered conversation between Mele and Gromack which Nimick eventually interrupted ....

Nimick:  I am asking about agenda item number 8 (the resolution to retain Savino). Is the resolution in error?

Mele:  You raise a good point Mr. Nimick  - We retain these resolutions on our system and when we redid them I think this paragraph is just a left-over and if it is OK with the Board I think the second 'WHEREAS' should be struck.  I did not engage in an additional interview search .....

Gromack then cut Mele's comments off.

Gromack:  OK, let it be noted that when we get to resolution 8 the second 'WHEREAS' will be stricken as amended.

The Board then proceeded to unanimously approve the resolution above in which the second 'WHEREAS' was "stricken" yet the third 'WHEREAS' which reads "which proposal is the most competitive of those received" was not stricken.

Regrettably, the members of the Town Board and its attorney have fallen so low that they no longer seem capable of reading their own resolutions that they are voting upon as representatives of the people.  When the lie contained in the resolution used to retain Savino for 2013 was exposed they did not even seem to care if 'striking the second WHEREAS' would bring the resolution they were voting on into conformance with the facts or not.  

So one year later, after a flawed process used to retain Savino for 2012 and following a second flawed process to retain him for 2013, Savino has again been approved as a patronage appointee and the Town Board has voted to retain him adopting a resolution in which the third 'WHEREAS' remains intact as a legal lie.

Frank Sparaco, protégé of Vincent Reda, and recent recipient of a patronage appointment himself, was present with his mentor, Reda, chatting amiably with the Town Board after adjournment of the meeting. 

Has "The Town That Cried", while raising property taxes 6.2% on senior citizens who will get a 1.7% increase in social security next year, and which voted itself a 2% salary increase at the meeting in which it handed out a patronage job to the Head of the Bronx Republican Party, now become the "The Town That Lied"?

Michael N. Hull is a member of the Clarkstown Taxpayers Group the goals of which are to reduce local taxes and local government expenses and make local government and local public officials more responsible and accountable to the citizenry.

Picture courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

frankie g December 21, 2012 at 07:02 PM
Nothing new hear Michael. When you have any gov't body such as we have in clarkstown that have no fear of retribution from the public at large. A simple reading and comprehension of a law they want to enact is too much trouble. Why worry ,they are always hoping for no one to come and challenge them on transparency or accountability. Why schedule a 5 million spending initiative in the middle of the day. Change zoning codes,too with a public hearing where you would think no one will show up from the neighborhood( and insure that by giving them the wrong time to come and voice their opinion) to accommodate a new business moving in, and not even worry about the impact of peace and quiet on the homeowners next to this property. It's a constant lack of transparency, dismissive and contemptible attitude they show for anyone who may challenge them. Follow the open Meetings law NO that's beneath them. Whispering among themselves during open board meeting is a constant display of contempt by them at every meeting. Who the hell are we. Oh yes i heard repeatedly from gromack You tea party people are all the same. So We have been labeled by our king. It must be true.,he said so. Concerned Taxpayers who see we can live here without subsidizing so many others with our money,is a tea party member I guess .
Michael N. Hull December 22, 2012 at 03:06 PM
The Yonkers Tribune stated that Jay Savino, Chairman of the Bronx GOP, was “instrumental in steering the NY City BofE to choosing voting machines known to be the rationale for an FBI investigation.” http://yonkerstribune.typepad.com/yonkers_tribune/2012/01/consolidation-effort-ties-anthony-mangone-to-joseph-j-savinos-law-firm-by-hezi-aris.html The Journal News - we learn Anthony Mangone pleaded guilty to tax fraud charges. Mangone served as a lobbyist for Election Systems & Software, a company that was awarded a $40 Million contract by New York City to supply voting machines. One of the Commissioners awarding the contract was Polanco who served as Jay Savino's deputy. http://newcity.patch.com/blog_posts/who-watches-the-watchmen Now it is reported ... http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/2012/12/a-raise-and-a-promotion-for-a-nyc-board-of-elections-lawyer "Commissioners at the BOE approved a raise from $89K to $115K for Raphael Savino, Jay Savino's brother. The position Raphael Savino holds was NOT publicly advertised. Polanco described it as an internal promotion of a qualfied candidate, "not a situation of nepotism or who knows who". (Raphael) Savino makes far less than lawyers at private firms. "It is a steal for the voters of NY City to have Raphael as the counsel." Recall what the board said when they rehired Jay Savino - he comes so cheap it is a win-win for everybody.
Andrew Wiley December 22, 2012 at 08:51 PM
It is my understanding that professional services do not have to go out for competitive bid. Please cite the law that compels town governments to bid professional service contracts.
frankie g December 23, 2012 at 01:20 AM
Andrew, whether it is a law or not. The compelling feature should be the average taxpayer who foots the bill. All Town expenses should be considered for cost savings
Michael N. Hull December 23, 2012 at 02:27 AM
Andrew Wiley: Your request that I "cite the law that compels town governments to bid professional service contracts" implies that: a) I am ignorant of the law and b) I suggested the Town do competitive bidding for the Tax Cert position. Neither is true. a) I know State and Federal law but since I did not suggest the Town conduct a bidding process then your request to me is moot .... b) You might consider sending your request to the Town Attorney. It was she who stated a year ago that she had conducted a bidding process that resulted in the hiring of Savino. Why she decided to do so you might ask her. That is what caused my colleagues to question the process she conducted. The Town has given evasive answers over the past 12 months, all of which has been reported in detail. In this article I no longer use the word 'evasive' but ask if the Town is 'lying' to the public. Why? When an attorney produces a resolution that states a competitive process was followed for 2013, Savino's bid was the lowest bid, enters the correct fee for 2013, dates the document, and the document is initialed, then the document is either a lie or the attorney is incompetent. Andrew - as you recall you attended a Clarkstown Taxpayers meeting this year and we had a discussion which covered this matter. So perhaps you should review the facts of what I told you then and make sure you pay attention to the details in the future.
Tom Nimick December 23, 2012 at 05:11 AM
Dear Mr. Wiley, You are correct about the letter of the law, but you have missed the point. Ms. Mele’s resolution stated “WHEREAS, the Town Attorney has researched and interviewed law firms with experience in such matters and has requested rates and proposals from said firms; and WHEREAS, the Town Attorney has received a proposal from the law office of Joseph J. Savino to provide said services for an annual retainer of $87,000, which proposal is the most competitive of those received.” When asked about other proposals she was evasive. When other bids were obtained through a FOIL request they showed that she had not used a competitive process as the resolution implied. She did not request proposals from firms at the same time. Instead she requested quotes from other firms only after having Mr. Savino’s proposal. One firm wrote that they could not match it. Also, the other proposals were dated January 3, 2012 – the date of the resolution. The process she implied in the resolution misrepresented how it was actually conducted. I guess that you are not concerned about the Town Attorney misleading Town Citizens. I think her action was disrespectful, dishonest, and despicable. It was a violation of the ethical standards of her profession. She works for us. We pay her salary and she is a public servant. I have nothing against her as a person, but I am very much in disagreement with her action. Respectfully, Tom Nimick
Michael N. Hull December 23, 2012 at 11:35 AM
Tom: Just to clarify for Mr. Wiley's benefit The resolution to which you refer in your reply to him is the one Mele placed before the board on January 03, 2012, nearly one year ago, to retain Savino for the first time at a fee of $87,000 for 2012. The questions raised about this process were detailed in http://newcity.patch.com/articles/questions-never-do-damage http://newcity.patch.com/articles/questions-and-still-more-questions http://newcity.patch.com/blog_posts/clarkstown-and-africa-friends-and-phone-calls http://newcity.patch.com/blog_posts/who-watches-the-watchmen In these articles Savino's background is detailed both by the Clarkstown Taxpayers and by numerous private citizens who wrote comments to the above articles. The resolution to which I refer in my reply to Wiley is the one Mele placed before the Board on December 20, 2012, last week, to retain Savinio for the second time at a fee of $88,740 for 2013. In this document Savino was given a 2% raise which incidentally is the same raise the Town Board voted for itself in the same meeting. This December 20, 2012 resolution is the one that I discuss in the present blog. http://newcity.patch.com/blog_posts/the-town-that-lied
Andrew Wiley December 23, 2012 at 03:31 PM
I never stated my position on this matter. I merely questioned is there is a law that compelled the Town to bid professional services. Until there is a state law that compels the bidding process be mandated even for professional services this is what will happen. Lets see if we all can get a law introduced to correct the process for awarding any bid that can be described as professional services.
Michael N. Hull December 23, 2012 at 05:32 PM
Andrew: Speaking metaphorically - when the fix is in, the fix is in. A law doesn't change anything. No law can drive moral or ethical behavior in government. But people who may have political aspirations need to "state their position on such matters". So take time and read the record because "evil flourishes when good men do nothing" - Edmund Burke.
Clarkstown life December 23, 2012 at 11:53 PM
Kudos Tom!
Michael N. Hull December 24, 2012 at 01:57 AM
Tom and Clarkstown Life: Nimick and I fight for things we believe are wrong - change won't come unless someone shakes the system up and speaks to the powerful. I would welcome seeing a blog written by either of you that show readers of my blog that you are passionate about some issue and are willing to take a stand instead of whining about me. I'm with you on the gun violence stuff, Mr. Washer, and you will find me supporting anything you write to see that Newtown never happens again. My cousin was shot dead leaving two young children. Another cousin is paralyzed having been sprayed with an automatic weapon. I spent months in New York on a drug and gun violence issue in Washington Heights so I am quite knowledgeable on many of the issues surrounding firearms. I can speak about the issue have seen how gun violence affects a community and the tragedy that guns wreak on families both from personal experience and from the perspective of the undercover world. So rather than lecture me, Tom and C.L., start blogs of your own on the issue you mention - it is a very important national topic and it needs a local champion. Drugs and guns are a problem right here in Rockland. The NY State Thruway was known as "Cocaine Alley" back in the 80s - that should tell you something.
Haroldstar December 25, 2012 at 06:42 AM
I amost feel bad for you because you must be such a loser. Its the same 3 people talking to themseves about nothing here.. Boring The Patch should take it down


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