Long Beach Sandy 'adviser' was employed full time

Council members: We thought former DPW commissioner was part-time employee

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In August 2016, Long Beach’s then Department of Public Works commissioner, Jim LaCarrubba, who played a lead role in the city’s recovery after Hurricane Sandy, announced that he was leaving for a position elsewhere, but would stay on as a part-time consultant to assist the city in its ongoing rebuilding efforts.

At least three City Council members said they believed LaCarrubba would remain in a part-time capacity, at a salary of $40,000. Records show, however, that he remained a full-time employee. From Sept. 8, 2016 — the day he resigned as public works commissioner — through Oct. 14, 2017, he was listed as the city’s secretary to labor relations, at an annual salary of $130,000, according to his separation payout form, obtained by the Herald through a Freedom of Information request.

When LaCarrubba — now the chief of staff for Town of Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen — finally left the city’s employ for good last October, he received a $21,000 separation payout for unused vacation, sick and personal time as a full-time employee for the previous 13 months.

Jack Schnirman, the city manager at the time, who is now the county comptroller, rehired LaCarrubba as an adviser in September 2016. Schnirman, who emphasized that LaCarrubba was an asset to the city, said that despite what LaCarrubba initially told the Herald before his role officially changed, he was always employed full time.

“From a management perspective, Jim was the much-needed continuity on the city’s recovery projects, and he was very successful,” Schnirman said. “My job was to persuade him keep the recovery projects moving.”

According to LaCarrubba’s LinkedIn page, he was a senior adviser for Sandy recovery and resiliency, providing the city “continued support and coordination on recovery projects, as well as support on grant-funded projects intended to enhance the resiliency of the city."

According to people with knowledge of city operations, he did not actually become the city’s secretary to labor relations — referred to as the director of operations — until July or August of 2017, nine months after assuming his new role. “He was making $40,000 in the recovery position,” Schnirman said, “and later, when the director of operations was open, he filled that role at [the $130,000] salary.”

His $21,000 payout — the second that he received in 13 months — was based on his salary as secretary to labor relations, even though he was only in the post for roughly three months.

According to documents obtained by the Herald, he had already received a $65,000 separation payment on Sept. 23, 2016, for unused vacation and sick time that he had accrued as DPW commissioner, a post that he served in from March 2012 to September 2016. He received that payment, even though he did not, it appears, ever leave the city's employ. In all, he received $86,000 in separation payouts.

LaCarrubba declined to comment.

He was among 62 union and non-union employees who received separation payouts and draw-downs last year that have come under scrutiny after council members John Bendo and Anissa Moore voted down a $2.1 million borrowing measure in April to cover the payments, amid questions over whether a number of the employees were entitled to the money, including Schnirman, who received a $108,000 payout last year after he was elected county comptroller.

City officials said that the recent payouts are currently being audited by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office to determine whether they were appropriate.

Though officials say that the city manager can hire management employees without City Council approval, some council members said they were surprised because they were not aware that LaCarrubba would be brought back in a full-time position dealing with ongoing rebuilding and labor negotiations.

“I had not heard that he was back at all full time,” said former council President Len Torres, who did not seek re-election last year. “We knew that he was full time and then part time, and then he did some additional work.

“It really is in the hands of the administration,” Torres said of his hiring. “But that’s a real surprise to me that he’d be earning more.”

“My understanding was that after he left full-time employment with the city, he was employed as a consultant handling FEMA matters and labor issues,” said Councilman Scott Mandel, who added that he believed LaCarrubba was in a part-time position.

“It was my understanding that he was serving the city in a part-time role as a consultant,” Moore said. “In light of our recent budget woes, the current City Council and the public have the right to know.”

When LaCarruba announced that he was stepping down as DPW commissioner in 2016, he said he was leaving for another job in order to be closer to his family. He did not say what the new job would be. He did say, however, that he would remain in the city’s employ part-time to help facilitate the Army Corps of Engineers project along the beach, as well as bulkheading projects along Reynolds Channel and other major infrastructure and resiliency projects.

Knowledgeable sources said LaCarruba’s other job opportunity fell through.

In an Aug. 16, 2016 email obtained by the Herald, Schnirman informed the council that the city was searching for LaCarrubba’s replacement as public works commissioner, but that he would continue to work with the city in a "reduced project manager role." Schnirman did not mention whether it was a full-time or part-time position, but said that LaCarrubba's annual salary would be based on "available administrative funding associated with recovery projects.”

Council President Anthony Eramo said that Schnirman felt he ultimately had to bring LaCarrubba back. “Everyone was really happy with the job that Jim performed, and we were surprised when he left,” Eramo said. “But it’s up to the city manager to hire his senior staff.”

Many have lauded LaCarrubba’s leadership role after the storm, and he was honored by the City Council in 2016 when he announced that he was resigning.

Seven months after assuming the DPW commissioner’s post, LaCarrubba led the city’s recovery efforts after Hurricane Sandy caused an estimated $200 million in damage to Long Beach’s infrastructure. One of the largest repair efforts was rebuilding the 2.2-mile boardwalk, which was all but destroyed in the storm. The $42 million project was completed on time and under budget, officials said.

Torres said that LaCarrubba was instrumental in ensuring that the city was fully reimbursed for a number of federally-funded rebuilding projects, and was also “able to work with labor,” so “we ended up saving money.”

“It was important to keep [LaCarrubba] connected to us afterward because we weren’t done getting paid for these rebuilding projects,” Torres said. “I could see that we needed him to finish all these jobs. We kept him on until we closed out all these deals. LaCarrubba really was instrumental in being able to keep the money flowing in — and that was really important.”

In addition to serving as an adviser on recovery projects, LaCarrubba was also involved in labor negotiations with the Civil Service Employees Association, and played a central role in securing an eight-year contract agreement last year that saved the city $400,000 in contractual salary raises, according to Schnirman and City Council members.

CSEA President John Mooney said that negotiations continued for nine months to a year with LaCarrubba and city attorneys until an agreement was reached, which included concessions such as members’ agreeing to forgo their raises for a year and requiring all new hires to contribute to their health insurance premiums.

“I’ve always had good relations with Jim since the storm,” Mooney said. “We’ve been through two contracts together.”

“I knew Jim was doing lots of the labor negotiations,” Eramo said. “But although the staffing of the upper management is up to the city manager, as a council president, I would like to be aware of who was being hired and for what.”