January 17, 2014 was the day Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano advised the City of Yonkers (CoY) his intent on making the Yonkers Board of Education (YBoE) a department of the City of Yonkers (CoY). It was also said on that day that Yonkers Public Schools (YPS) Superintendent Bernard Pierorazio had advised Mayor Spano that the YBoE requisitioned $55 million more from the CoY than they were “allegedly” permitted. At issue were two separate sums, designated in part for FY 2012-2013 and another for FY 2013-2014; together valued at $55 million. In each of the specified fiscal year budgets noted, the “allocated” sums were defined their monetary value and rationalized as part of the Gap Equilibrium Adjustment (GEA), best understood as an I.O.U. The GEA was shorthand for New York State admitting they did not have the necessary funds they permitted to be included in each of Mayor Mike Spano’s Budgets, approved by the Yonkers Board of Education Trustees, Mayor Mike Spano’s Office, The Yonkers City Council (YCC), and New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. With the GEA permitted to stand, New York State admitted the funds were not readily available, but when they became evident, such as in a time of a state surplus, they would be made available to CoY. There was no specific deadline by which the GEA was to be delivered, only an Albany-like designation for an I.O.U. The revelation would undergo many metamorphoses. The telling is herein with all its warts, bruises, broken limbs, fund raising efforts, even campaign efforts. If ever there was a time to outshine the BBC’s original “House of Cards” with Ian Richardson and/or Netflix’s “House of Cards” with Kevin Spacey, CoY’s got it all going on by miles.
NYS Comptroller signed off on the two budgets because he understood the $55 million in GEA funding could not be spent until they would be released by Albany to the city coffers. The money had never been sent and therefore was never received. Where did the city get the money from which it paid? The issue is from where was money paid to the tune of $55 million if funds were not in the Yonkers City coffer.
Mayor Spano’s announcement won immediate approval for abrogating the YBoE’s financially dependent school district to be made a department of CoY. The rationale for maintaining the status quo of the YBoE has earned supporters over the years, as have detractors who suggest the YBoE become a department of CoY, and others who prefer different models. The squabbles over one model over another have eclipsed many years of sustained bickering in which one side or another would extinguish the other’s argument. The skirmishes would become known every time the simmering embers over one perspective issue was about to be extinguished. Alas, this last battle has been brought to its loftiest heights ever imagined. And who better that Mayor Mike Spano to lead the charge from behind.
Yes, from behind. Mayor Mike Spano blamed then Superintendent Bernard Pierorazio for the crisis that was revealed. Mayor Spano claimed Pierorazio, after advising Mayor Spano the “so-called” overspending / shortfall / deficit, offered his resignation, to which, with alacrity, Mayor Spano accepted, despite Pierorazio being employed by the YBoE Trustees and NOT Mayor Spano. Contesting the scenario divulged by spokespeople for Yonkers City Hall, Yonkers Tribune reported that it was Nick DeSantis, partner in the firm O’Connor Davies Munns & Dobbins, LLP, employed by CoY and the Yonkers City Council, was in fact the finder of the $55 million “discrepancy”. DeSantis is presently also engaged as the auditing firm for the YBoE. Caught in another maelstrom of political doing and undoing, the drama within Yonkers was ratcheted to the hilt. If anyone knows drama, its Yonkers and Yonkersites.
Mayor Spano advised that Pierorazio a noticed him of his retirement. Mayor Spano’s assertion was proven false. It would take over a month’s time for Pierorazio to conclude a financial departure to his benefit valued at $205,000. The day Pierorazio’s departure was legally concluded was also the day YBoE Trustee President Dr. Nader Sayegh, Esq., shepherded the accession first divulged by the Yonkers Tribune of Dr. Michael Yazurlo to be its interim Superintendent of Yonkers Public Schools District. Interim, because the plan is for the YBoE to be soon dissolved, though not divulged to be City Hall’s intention.
The assertion that a forensic review of the books would be forthcoming is another pipe dream now over two months overdue. It seems Mayor Mike Spano is intent on running out the clock. Remember April 1st, 2014. No, it isn’t an April Fool’s joke. It is likely to be the day the end game is revealed. Then again, this is the Yonkers Tribune, we’ll put the kabosh on the silence… we’ll do the telling!
Yonkers City Council President Liam McLaughlin, in 2014 acceded to office as president after a short hiatus from public service, in which he previously earned 10-years tenure serving in the capacity of Yonkers City Councilman, and Minority and Majority Leader. Considering Mayor Spano’s overreaching effort to appease McLaughlin’s mentor, former Mayor John Spencer, and “friend and family” member of Clan Spano, et al, despite the denials (think Kathy Spring Spencer’s WIB job, her hiring to McLaughlin’s Chief of Staff, and so much more), and Mayor Spano’s support of McLaughlin’s candidacy, a pure “non-aggression pact” political play that was meant to pulverize any Democratic contender for Yonkers City Council president, and any cerebrally challenged individual can appreciate why McLaughlin was quick to support Mayor Spano’s call for transforming the YBoE into a department of CoY. Yet few people know that Robert Ferrito, former YBoE Trustees president is the man whispering into McLaughlin’s ear. It’s mind boggling how the very person, who after being term-limited out as YBoE Trustees president, and his failed political campaign effort thereafter, needing a “no show job”, would find then Mayor Phil Amicone, also desirous of bringing the YBoE under the aegis of CoY as a department, engaged Ferrito’s services to the tune of $125,000 per year. Ferrito’s incendiary demeanor and in your face “I know better” attitude, coupled with his allegiance to Spencer and not to Amicone would find his welcome no longer welcomed. When Ferrito found himself kicked out into the cold by Amicone, Yonkers Tribune demanded to know what the $250,000 remuneration “earned” by Ferrito came to. It turned out to be an innocuous, two-paragraph long notice that Ferrito could not find any way to making the YBoE a department of CoY. Notwithstanding his lackluster performance years ago, Ferrito is under the impression that he is the go to man to tell McLaughlin how to get it done when he didn’t have a clue then, and doesn’t now.
Ferrito is nothing more than a beard to maintain Mayor Spano’s smile and so-called good nature in using others to do his bidding, or should we say, former New York State (NYS) Senator and lobbyist extraordinaire Nick Spano, owner of Empire Strategic Planning ESP), among others we will mention herein.
Nick Spano recently sent an email to invite Republicans, among others, to fundraise for Governor Andrew Cuomo’s reelection bid. Nick Spano (Republican) has engaged Real Estate Broker and former partner Paul Adler (Rand Commercial Realty), a Democrat, in that effort. The event is to take place on April 3, 2014, at the Doubletree Inn, in Tarrytown, NY. Former Republican U.S. Senator Al D’Amato, Esq., Founder and Managing Director of the lobbying firm Park Strategies, LLC, is known to be a New York State “kingmaker”. D’Amato has every intention to do just that. He has endorsed the Nick Spano / Paul Adler effort to benefit Governor Cuomo. Al D’Amato, Nick Spano, and Paul Adler believe they have been able to see into their crystal ball, a clairvoyant tool suggestive of a sort of ESP; they have doubled down on incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is acknowledged to hold over a 40 percentage points lead over any and all challengers, including Republicans Rob Astorino (declared candidate) and Carl Paladino (undeclared candidate). The “Donald” Trump, true to form, only days’ ago pulled out of contention; a passive / aggressive move supportive of Governor Cuomo.
The Yonkers “drama / crisis” is tied to Albany at the hip. In fact, it was over two years ago that Governor Andrew Cuomo walked into the Polish Community Center in support of the City of Yonkers. He won the mayorship for Mike Spano. Within less than 30 seconds Governor Cuomo shared his strong belief in CoY and Yonkersites; that he would not think otherwise, despite the vocal naysayers. “I believe in Yonkers,” he said to unwavering applause and a standing ovation from seemingly everyone in the cavernous room. “ I know Mike Spano is best for Yonkers!”
When Governor Cuomo was advised of the “crisis” by Mayor Spano, the Governor was going to exact a price. In the past, Mayor Spano asked Governor Cuomo to sign off on bringing a Control Board to Yonkers. The Governor refused. The Control Board is OFF the table. Governor Cuomo advised Mayor Spano if a Control Board was what he wanted, he had best ask. Governor Cuomo would not step over Mayor Spano in that regard. Recognize that from the first days of Mayor Spano’s accession to office, as payback for the Governor’s support of Mike Spano, and truth be told, Governor Cuomo not truly confident in Mayor Spano’s ability to govern, had designated Yonkers Deputy Mayor Sue Gerry be installed, managed by Lawrence Schwartz, Secretary to Governor Cuomo, former gubernatorial confidante, who is Governor Cuomo’s “Man Friday”, the “go to guy”. When Governor Cuomo heard that the $55 million over-spending spree accrued under Mayor Spano’s watch he advised Larry Schwartz to take care of it. Instructions that resonate well with Schwartz. Governor Cuomo didn’t care how it would be done, he just wanted it done. Schwartz knows Governor Cuomo is the “man”!
Schwartz demanded heads role. With YBoE Trustee Sayegh at the helm, Yonkers Public Schools (YPS) Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Joseph Brachitta resigned. Eventually, so did YPS Superintendent Pierorazio. But that wasn’t enough.
As more political pressure was exacted, Schwartz was to learn that the $55 million “spending spree” had ballooned to $119. Even that figure is uncertain. A final forensic study has yet to be completed.
Mayor Spano wants control of the YBoE as a department so as to add another 4,000 patronage jobs under his control. The chessboard was set. Schwartz on one side, Mayor Spano on the other; Yonkersites, the perennial pawns forced to fight, get wounded, and die; forced to wage battle with the “generals” guiding and managing the war of political will and skill from the back. In such a battle, Yonkersites are close to losing once again. Time is short. April 1st looms. No, not April Fools, instead, it is the day by which the New York State Legislature is to adopt Governor Andrew Cuomo’s FY2014-2015 Budget. Should that budget maintain the present one-sentence resolution promoted by Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Independent Democratic Coalition (IDC) Leader Jeff Klein, that of transforming the YBoE into a department of CoY, the change will have been made without a word heard from parents, students, teachers, or from among other stakeholders; Yonkersites will be marginalized and dismissed once again.
But there is more. The animosity created upon former Senator Nick Spano’s trouncing in the polls, bringing present Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, maintains his call for her demise. In fact, Mayor Spano spent the most recent days in Albany awaiting the Republican / IDC inclusion of transforming the YBoE into a department as Mayor Spano deems it appropriate, despite no public discussion; no Yonkers City Council discussion. This seems to be the environment that best suits Mayor Spano; perhaps that speaks to the newly adopted gait strutted by Mayor Spano. Will the public find the resolve to stand up to Mayor Spano and those standing to protect him in this high stakes chess game?
To be sure, Senator Stewart-Cousins feels the pain. Mayor Mike Spano has culled Human Right Deputy Carlos Moran, a Democratic Ward Leader, Wilson Terrero, recently defeated Yonkers City Council Majority Leader (District 2), given a job with WIB at Mayor Spano’s insistence, and Jose Alvarado, the one time Westchester County Legislator, Yonkers Constituent Services employee, then disgraced and removed Yonkers City Clerk, to operate in tandem in support of the yet to be declared Republican candidate Robert Forti intentioned to campaign against Senator Stewart-Cousins, while Westchester County Legislator Virginia Perez was until the last few days intending to primary the three-term senator. Interesting is it not… all Democrats looking to defeat and diminish the Democratic Senate Conference Leader. Big mistake. Truth be told, Greenburgh is all Senator Stewart-Cousins need to maintain her status; Yonkers has made itself inconsequential in the upcoming New York State Senate race with respect to the senator’s political future.
What is evident is that Mayor Mike Spano wants to take the credit for making Yonkers “whole”, a sort of Spring Santa Claus in the footsteps of former Senator Nick Spano, and like his brother, marginalizing the entire Albany delegation in the process. The mano-a-mano conduct is dismissive of protocol and standards by which all abide. The Albany Delegation is not too happy.
At issue is not whether CoY will find Governor Cuomo bailing Yonkers out of its own mess. That will transpire; it is almost a foregone conclusion. This is an election year. At issue is who and how much are we talking about in dollars and cents, who is at fault, what are the corrective best practices so as not to repeat this outcome again, and how did CoY pay over $119 million to teachers, vendors, among other employees and suppliers if they never received the money they spent beyond what they had received?
The YBoE spent, as far as we now know, $119 million more that they had received for the benefit of the YPS by requisitioning funds from Finance Commissioner John Liszewski to comply with Mayor Mike Spano’s two FY approved budgets, no more and no less. That amount was exceeded by the YBoE to the tune of $119 million. In order for the YBoE to satisfy the bills it pays, it requisitions Finance Commissioner Liszewski for the funds. They were then “wired” to the account either maintained by the YBoE or were paid by CoY for the benefit of the YPS. The fact that $119 million more than was allotted to the YPS was spent logically suggests that there is a “slush” fund that had existed to which no administration in Yonkers ever revealed to the taxpayers in Yonkers, much less in Albany. The scam continues. Taxes were never lowered. They continue to rise. The slush fund was used for other purposes. Yonkersites know for what those items are. Another issue, another day. Where are the Feds?
Yonkersites and some elected officials are only concerned about getting the money. They have no interest in coming to an agreement about getting the money and in the same breath setting up fail-safe mechanisms that would not permit a similar overspending to take place. And there is no interest in revealing in what secret account Commissioner Liszewski was able to draw against in order to pay for $119 million more than he had in the city coffers. As a point of fact, City Hall asserts the city side of the budget is in deficit to the tune of $50 million. By City Hall’s assertions, City Call presently faces a $169 million hole they want to fill. It is evident that there is a problem in the Department of Finance and that the CoY, despite claiming to have hired an Internet Technology specialist, MIS Director Bob Cacace, has in the past 18 months or so, been at the helm but has yet to engage a melding of financial software that would have mitigated this crisis. So, is this real, Memorex, or a political assault to gain patronage over 4,000 employees by holding over 1,000 jobs to be dismissed as ransom if funding is not gained? But then again, should future funding resuscitate in kind that spent? Why? The money was there to spend. It is taxpayer money squirreled for reasons never shared with the taxpayer but is taxpayer money collected from the taxpayer years ago. The taxpayer cannot be responsible for Mayor Spano’s lack of oversight and control of the Department of Finance or its inept Finance Commissioner John Liszewski, or its pandering and inept CPA Nick DeSantis who was the person who advised Mayor of this calamity but did so after two years time. Was DeSantis part of this “ploy” or “plot”? Why wasn’t this issue brought forward last year. This is starting to smell like a concocted brew that betters the witches depicted in Shakespeare’s Macbeth as they delight in the mix they brew in a large caste iron cauldron.
Now that the New York State Senate has voted to transform the YBoE into a department of CoY, and the New York State Assembly not including it as part of their budget proposal, the NYS Legislature will need to reconcile both houses. Since Governor Cuomo seems intent on winning Yonkers in the upcoming election, despite Yonkersites having yet to become engaged in a discussion over the issues, there is only one given… that is, the budget will be approved by April 1st, at worst very close to that date. Are there any guarantees that the YBoE cannot continue its spending spree prior to the YBoE becoming a department is legally devised? How so? Has the Oracle Software been melded with the YPS? Will there be a run on funds at the YBoE?
Meanwhile, Mayor Spano has told MIS Director Bob Cacace, Human Resources Commissioner Paula Redd Zeeman, Parks, Recreation & Conservation Commissioner Yvette Hartsfield, Finance Commissioner John Liszewski, and DPW Commissioner Thomas Meier to work together on a streamlining process best for CoY. This should have been done 2 years ago; better late than never. I wonder if any of them have learned anything over these past two years that they can translate worthy to benefit Yonkersites. Their paltry two year resume is wanting. What a total shame.
The takeaway is that the YBoE Board of Trustees will be dissolved, including dismissing Dr. Nader Sayegh, Esq., who was effectively used to shepherd the process without a hiccough, and whose good nature and finesse focused on the issues that served Mayor Spano well, yet respectful of the children and their parents. Unfortunately, Dr. Sayegh continues to suffer the anti-Arab bigotry that is evident in City Hall’s conduct. He will be removed and dismissed when the YBoE is dissolved and in its wake a Department of Education and a Chancellor will be chosen. The big deal is that instead of $260,000 plus perks per annum afforded Pierorazio, City Hall will reduce the remuneration by $60 to $80,000 less for Dr. Yazurlo in his future role as Chancellor of the YPS District. Whoop de doo.
The drama will soon climax. Where will Yonkers stand? Will Mayor Mike Spano win this battle or will it be an unsatisfying skirmish to gain its reprise over another propitious political moment? Will Yonkersites learn from which account the funds were expended? Will there be a fail-safe mechanism to protect the taxpayer’s money? Will Yonkersites’ voices be heard and once heard, will they be heeded? Does anyone care?
If people are not stirred to give expression, Mayor Mike Spano’s conduct will send a shudder through the political climate in Yonkers and New York State. My money is on Mike Spano!!! He has disengaged and dismissed enough people in Yonkers who believed they were working for Yonkers’ benefit by clinging dearly to serving Mayor Spano that they instead now find they were used and are irrelevant to the equation. So many people were silent over the last two years, nay, let’s count it as 18 years instead, that there are none among those in Yonkers able to speak. The outlook; Mayor Spano will be drunk with power and destructive because of his inability, and that of his staff to do much of anything of value for Yonkers other than to possibly create a different imprint on the city landscape that will cost Yonkersites more dearly. Yonkers is still awaiting a financial statement on the Ridge Hill Project. It still offers nothing to the financial needs of CoY. I suggest we ask Forest City Ratner to build Yonkers from the ground up and give them an inducement of 50 years to close the deal. Hallelujah.
In question is the Public Private Partnership for Education (P3forE). It’s all about the money. It always is!
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