Ocean Beach Board Passes Corrective Action Plan after NY State Audit

Nearly six months after the release of New York State Comptroller’s audit examining the compensation of the former Ocean Beach village clerk/treasurer, the Ocean Beach Board of Trustees unanimously adopted a corrective action plan to submit to the Comptroller’s office, at its April 1 meeting.

Resolution 2023-047 was an add-on item to the meeting agenda, so was presented as one of the final matters addressed at the meeting.

“RESOLVED that Ocean Beach Board of Trustees hereby approves the proposed corrective action plan (CAP), which includes inter alia, actively seeking recoupment of any overpayments taking into consideration the advice of village council to be forwarded to the New York State Comptroller’s Office,” is the wording of the resolution that was read to the public.

Audible cheers could be heard from the audience in the Ocean Beach boat house after Mayor James Mallott and four sitting trustees in attendance, both in-person and virtually, all voted in favor of it.

Curious to what the terms of the corrective action plan might include, Fire Island News placed a Freedom of Information Request with Village Hall earlier this week. We were furnished with the complete resolution with supporting documentation in the form of a letter to Ira McCracken, Chief Examiner of the Division of Local Government and School Accountability for the Office of the New York State Comptroller, dated April 1, the same day that the Village board meeting took place.

The letter answers the seven specific recommendations listed in the audit report as follows:

1.     Implement procedures of compliance: To address compliance issues, the letter promises to craft a more “generic” Village Employee Handbook for Ocean Beach employees and elected officials. The revised handbook would strive for more consistent salary and benefit compensation policy. According to the Village letter of response, this new handbook is still in the production stages.

2.     Publicly approve any extensions, additions or changes to the Clerk-Treasurer’s Agreement before they are put into effect: The letter emphasized that the triple-role position formerly held by Steven Brautigam for over a decade has been split into three separate job positions. The internal promotions of Jonneigh Adrion as Village Clerk and Linda Morrissey as Village Treasurer were announced at a special board meeting held two weeks after the released state audit report. Joseph DiFrancisco, formerly with the Village of Garden City in Nassau County was appointed as Ocean Beach Village Administrator a few weeks before the audit was released last October. The letter further stated that any agreements concerning these three individuals will be put before the board for public vote in order to improve transparency.

3.     Consult with the Village attorney about the overpayments cited in the audit report and, if appropriate, seek recovery: “The Village has and continues to consult with the Village Attorney about the payments you identified in your Report, both with respect to the legal merits of any such claim, the probability of success in any attempted ‘recovery,’ and the likely costs of any such litigation. The Board will actively seek recoupment of any overpayments taking into consideration the advice of counsel as aforementioned, as referenced in the Board Resolution adopted on April 1, 2023,” reads the Ocean Beach response to the State’s recommendation. No concrete steps toward recovery of the estimated $44,000 in overpayments Mr. Brautigam collected during his tenure with the Village are explored in this response.

4.     Adopt and develop policies of written pre-approval of overtime and comp time with supervisory approval and supported by documentation: In concert with other action items on this list, this term states that the present administrator, clerk and treasurer will not be eligible to collect overtime, instead that “hours beyond the normal work day have been built into the annual salary.”

5.     Ensure accrued comp time is in compliance with employee handbook and accounted for in compliance with Village adopted policy and procedures: One huge sticking point in the audit were inconsistences noted with compensation benefits that included payouts for unused vacation and sick time not in keeping with Brautigam’s contract or the adopted employee handbook. This term effectively repeats the intent of the first term of corrective action for the more “generic” Employee Handbook still in the process of being written.

6.     Prepare a “cost-benefit analysis to justify assigning Village vehicles to employees for business” versus “reimbursing employees for the use of their personal vehicles while on Village business”: The letter states that unlike the handbook, which is still being developed, this policy has already been reviewed. “While such assignments will continue to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, the Village currently believes that a ‘cost benefit’ analysis is an insufficient analysis. The nature of Ocean Beach work requires an availability for emergencies by a larger percentage of the workforce than would ordinarily be found in a village workforce.”

7.     Reporting the value of taxable fringe benefits as additional income: The most succinct of all the responses, it states that Ocean Beach will seek guidance from their external contracted auditors.

It remains to be seen if the New York State Comptroller’s Office will find the proposed corrective action plan within this newly minted resolution to be satisfactory.