NY Audit Slams OB Over Clerk-Treasurer Pay

Photo by Carl Richards.

By Timothy Bolger ~ New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office blasted the Village of Ocean Beach Board of Trustees as showing “poor judgment” in retroactively approving an official’s decade-long overpayments detailed in an audit released Oct. 14. 

Ocean Beach Village Clerk-Treasurer Steven Brautigam was overpaid more than $44,000 over the course of a contract that the village board retroactively amended last year in a bid to address the findings, the audit states. Among the audit’s key findings was that the board did not ensure that Brautigam’s compensation was consistent with his contract – even after it was retroactively amended in an attempt to correct the issue – which resulted in overpayments for unused vacation, sick leave and unauthorized compensatory time. The audit also found $11,000 per year of costs to Ocean Beach for his personal use of a taxpayer-funded vehicle that should have been reported on his personal income taxes. 

“There have been instances in which the clerk-treasurer cashed out unused vacation and sick leave accruals that were inconsistent with the terms of his agreements and the village’s employee handbook,” the audit stated. “The board’s belated actions to ratify the clerk-treasurer’s actions demonstrated poor judgment and was a poor substitute for governance.”

The 19-page report came amid an ongoing audit of village finances that started in March 2021, the results of which DiNapoli’s office previously said were due to be released in fall 2021. DiNapoli’s press secretary confirmed that the broader audit of Ocean Beach’s bookkeeping remains ongoing, but there is no revised timeline for it to be released. If the duration of the larger audit and tone of the spinoff audit focusing on Brautigam’s compensation are any guide, the forthcoming state review of how the village manages its $7.1 million annual budget are likely to be similarly harsh. 

“We generally disagreed with their financial findings,” Village Attorney Ken Gray said in response to residents’ questions about the audit raised during the Oct. 15 Ocean Beach Board of Trustees meeting. “However, we did acknowledge that there were some policies that weren’t written. They were implemented, long-standing policies, they’re just not written. We acknowledged that the employee handbook needs to be updated and have consistency with how to manage our employees and their contributions.”

The last time the state comptroller’s office audited the village was in 1995, when then-state Comptroller H. Carl McCall found that then-Mayor Michael Youchcah’s administration had not properly advertised some bids, not properly verified expenses and had fund balance concerns, among other issues. It also isn’t the first time state agencies have found fault with the village’s management. In 2017, the state Department of Environmental Conservation ordered the village to repeal its oversight of special building permits for structures in the Coastal Erosion Hazard Area (CEHA) after a review found the village had not issued any CEHA permits since Ocean Beach got the authority to do so in 1999, officials said at the time. Gray had acknowledged at the time that “we had a very poor track record of tracking those properties.”

The latest audit suggests history is repeating itself.


Among the Brautigam income issues the state auditors honed in on was the village’s practice of granting him comp time in lieu of overtime.

Besides the fact that the village did not update Brautigam’s contract to reflect each pay raise and increases in vacation days as the increases occurred over the course of his tenure, the comptroller’s office also took issue with the fact that the clerk-treasurer used this comp time in place of his accrued vacation, sick or personal leave to take time off, allowing him to cash those days out at the end of the fiscal year, the audit stated. 

The audit recommended that the board “consult with the village attorney about recovering the overpayments noted in the report.”

The village disagreed with the assessment, indicating that it does not plan to demand reimbursement from Brautigam.

“While we agree with you that good governance would dictate that the clerk-treasurer’s terms and conditions of employment and the village handbook should have been updated simultaneously with any change in the intended compensation or practice, we respectfully disagree with your characterization of the forgoing as an ‘overpayment,’” Ocean Beach Mayor James Mallott wrote in a Sept. 23 letter in response to the audit.


The audit additionally raised questions about the efficiency of Brautigam’s use of a village-owned vehicle, which the report characterized as a fringe benefit.

The audit recommended that the clerk-treasurer “properly report fringe benefits [on his W-2] for income tax purposes.” Brautigam, who earned $211,150 last year before perks, did not respond to requests for comment on the audit, but the village disagreed with characterization of him using the vehicle as a fringe benefit.

“The clerk-treasurer … with the additional responsibility of overseeing and supervising all village personnel, has traditionally been required to be able to respond to the village 24/7,” Mallott wrote in his response. “Accordingly, he was directed (not merely ‘authorized’) to use the village’s 4-wheel drive vehicle. This allowed him to drive to and on the beach without reliance on the ferry schedule.”

The audit found, however, that the village’s contract with the clerk-treasurer — both in 2012 and 2021 — stated Brautigam should be reimbursed “for any mileage on his personal vehicle used for approved business purposes.” But that’s not what happened, according to the state.

“From at least 2012, instead of reimbursing the clerk-treasurer for mileage on his personal vehicle as provided in his agreements, the board has provided the clerk-treasurer with a village-owned vehicle, which the village has paid the cost to operate, including insurance, gasoline, repair and maintenance,” the audit stated. “The mayor stated in a 2014 memorandum to the clerk-treasurer that the vehicle shall not be used for personal matters. However, the clerk-treasurer did not maintain a daily log showing the day, date, odometer reading, destination and purpose of trips. Without such a detailed log, the board is unable to determine whether the clerk-treasurer used the vehicle appropriately.”

The audit found that the cost to the village of the vehicle was nearly $11,000 annually, but no cost-benefit analysis was made on the mayor’s 2012 assertion that providing Brautigam with a vehicle was more cost efficient for Ocean Beach.


 The audit of Brautigam’s compensation comes more than a year after he filed to collect his pension in addition to collecting his salary, a controversial practice known as double-dipping. Good government watchdog groups frown on double-dipping.

 “Taxpayers are ultimately responsible for backing public pension benefits and paying public worker salaries,” Tim Hoefer, executive director of the Empire Center, an Albany-based think tank, has said in criticizing double-dipping. “They have a good reason to question why they’re paying someone twice.”

Brautigam filed his application for service retirement with the New York State and Local Retirement System on May 4, 2021, DiNapoli’s office said. The village immediately hired him back last year.

“Pursuant to Retirement and Social Security Law Section 212, a service retiree of the New York State and Local Retirement System may return to public employment … and continue to receive his or her retirement benefit,” a representative of the comptroller told the News. “There are generally no restrictions on the retiree’s post-retirement earnings beginning in the calendar year they turn 65.” 

Brautigam is 68 years old.

At the time, Ocean Beach officials said that Brautigam’s double dipping would result in a savings to the village since it would no longer have to contribute to his retirement.


Additional recommendations in the audit include that the village update its employee handbook, implement procedures to ensure employee compensation matches their contracts, adopt a formal policy governing comp time, and conduct a cost-benefit analysis of giving employees village-owned vehicles.

The village has 90 days from the date of the audit to decide if it will file a corrective action plan with the state addressing the concerns raised in the audit. But it remains to be seen if the village will follow through with that step.

Gray said, “We’re in discussions with the board on what that will look like, if anything.”

As for Brautigam’s future, the village had said that Oct. 15 would be his last day with the village, but he has remained on staff since, while Ocean Beach is in the process of onboarding a new village administrator. No new timeline for Brautigam’s departure was given.

“We’re in negotiations with some of the staff taking over Steve’s position,” Mallott said at the recent board meeting. “We’re not quite there yet. It will remain the status quo until we can finalize the contracts we’re looking at moving forward.”

Some residents expressed frustration at the prolonged goodbye.

“I literally shake every time Steve’s name comes up,” Andrea Nimberger of Ocean Beach told the board. “It’s ridiculous that we’ve been blown off. The village residents — taxpayers — our money is paying Steve. There just should be no more excuses. He needs to go. And if the new village administrator is not competent without Steve consulting, then you put the wrong person in place.”