Nice Work if You Can Get It!

BLOG BY MICHAEL HULL of Clarkstown Taxpayers Group


“Sooner or later, all talk among foreigners in Pyongyang, North Korea, turns to one imponderable subject. Do the locals really believe what they are told, and do they truly revere Dear Leader and Little Boy? I have been a visiting writer in several authoritarian and totalitarian states, and usually the question answers itself.” – Christopher Hitchens, Love, Poverty, and War: Journeys and Essays

In two articles, ‘Two Jokes – One Humorous – One Laughable‘ and ‘The Joke is on You‘, I discussed the outlandish salaries a26nd pay raises provided to the members of the Clarkstown Police Department.   Now the police department has provided us with a third concern associated with the use of overtime.

In the Journal News article Clarkstown Cop Quits Amid Overtime Accusations of January 30, 2013 we read:

A veteran town police officer has resigned rather than challenge potential departmental accusations that he filed for several hours of overtime and didn’t work the hours. William Sherwood, a decorated officer for more than a decade, filed for routine overtime of four hours allowed for a scheduled appearance before a Rockland County grand jury, authorities said. “We came across a discrepancy in his overtime,” Police Chief Michael Sullivan said, “we did an investigation and some overtime he submitted he didn’t work.”

The incredible thing about this statement is that one is given to believe that the questionable action of this police officer involved just a single overtime ‘discrepancy’ of only four hours. The article continued:

Sherwood faced three options at a hearing:

1) Exoneration,

2) A guilty verdict with a “recommendation” for dismissal, or

3) A guilty verdict with an internal penalty, such as loss of time off.

Sullivan said the department intended to pursue departmental charges, but Sherwood chose to resign, giving up a job that paid him at least $125,166, not including benefits and overtime. Sherwood and his lawyer denied the accusations.

We are asked to believe that this young police officer, who is just 37 years old and is married with a young family, chose to give up a job paying him a base salary of over $125 thousand per year when any good lawyer might  have easily won a verdict that may have resulted in no more than a ‘slap on the wrist‘ such as “loss of time off” for a misdemeanor.

D.A. Thomas Zugibe did not seem overly confident that the case would stand up in court saying that Sherwood’s (overtime) filing amounted to several hundred dollars and could have brought a misdemeanor, if any charge at all.   Zugibe said the officer losing his job represented a far greater penalty.

The Clarkstown PBA president made no comment over what appears to have been a forced resignation of a member of his organization who according to the District Attorney received a punishment that “represented a far greater penalty” than appears to have been warranted.

This raises a  very simple question – why is the PBA president not making a fuss on behalf of Sherwood?  

D.A. Zugibe added. “They (Sullivan et al) aggressively responded. This was a very heavy price for the officer to pay.”  But then Zugibe goes on to speak out of the other side of his mouth saying that “the punishment they ‘extracted’ was appropriate.

Really?  The level of the discourse on the punishment that Officer Sherwood received seems not to fit his alleged crime. Sullivan is quoted as saying that Sherwood had an “unblemished history at the department.” He received several medals for his efforts including saving the lives of some Clarkstown citizens,  yet all of this appears to have meant nothing when the officer supposedly committed what is described as a ‘misdemeanor‘ and the punishment that was ‘extracted‘ was “a very heavy price“.

This sad story makes one wonder if there is something much more serious going on behind the scenes here. Were there other instances of false overtime payments involving this officer or, of other police officers past or present, that the Town feared might be brought up by an aggressive defense attorney in any legal proceedings against Sherwood?  Was Sherwood given this deal of amisdemeanor on his record, with payment of his pension ensured, if he would just ‘walk the plank‘ and ‘go quietly into the night?

Consider the following ….. 

Officer William Sherwood’s base salary may have been $125,166 but according to the database presented at his total compensation last year (2012) was $206,237, an amount of $81,071 over his base pay presumably earned through overtime. (The Payrolls section provides a database of names, positions, salaries and/or total earnings for individuals who have been employed by New York State, New York City, state and regional public authorities, public school districts, and New York’s county, city, town and village governments.)

One can therefore see that for Sherwood to resign for an overtime charge of only a couple of hundred dollars in an $80,000 per year overtime package smacks of punishment to the extreme, or something else in the extreme that is being covered up. Any competent defense attorney could have argued that the four hours of overtime in question was simply a mistake the officer made, the overtime money could have been returned and Officer Sherwood might have been sent forth to earn some more medals saving the lives of Clarkstown’s citizens.

But that is not what happened ….. 

In addition to the huge amount of overtime Officer Sherwood accumulated, it might come as  a matter of amazement to some that William Sherwood’s father was a former police chief of Clarkstown. Former Chief Sherwood served two years in Clarkstown’s top spot and 32 years with the department overall retiring in 2004.

Chief Sherwood’s pension which was mentioned in a NY Times article entitled ‘Crime May Not Pay But Fighting It In This Town Sure Does‘ will amaze you.  In this article The NY Times delineated the outrageous salaries and gross abuse of overtime, especially in the final years of a Clarkstown officer’s service, to pump up pension payments.  Clarkstown Captain Purtill was paid $543,415 before his retirement making him “by far” the highest-paid public employee in New York.  Purtill retired with the highest Rockland pension at $162,614.  Guess what – the second highest pension is received by Purtill’s former boss, ex-Chief William Sherwood, who receives only a couple of hundred dollars less than Purtill at $162,037.

‘Nice work if you can get it’!   

The NY Times went on to point out that in 2008, former Police Chief, Noonan, made $332,530. He was not even the highest paid that year: one of his two captains earned $335,676, while working two days a week because of a disability and spending three days a week undergoing physical therapy. The other captain earned $311,369.

The 50 highest-earning Clarkstown employees were ALL members of the Police, earning $10 million, or $200,000 each on average.

On a similar theme the Journal News in April 2009 obtained information on the Clarkstown police salaries and overtime and reported:

A total of 15 police officers made more than $200,000 in 2008. The lowest-paid officer among the top 50 earned $169,304. An estimated 147 police officers in Clarkstown’s 173-strong police department made more than $100,000 in base salaries in 2009, NOT including overtime and other earnings.

The salary numbers back then astounded and outraged Gerry O’Rourke, president of the Congers Civic Association and a current member of the Clarkstown Taxpayers“This is an example of excess beyond belief,” said O’Rourke. If the Town Board doesn’t stand up and say ‘No More,’ they should be voted out of office.” 

Well to no one’s surprise the Board did not stand up and its members remain in office to this day. 

The income of Clarkstown police officers includes a sizable boost from overtime, which is paid at 1.5 percent of base salary. In accordance with their contracts, police officers can receive pay for overtime hours they did not work. Under a clause that has been in every contract since 1995, police officers who work on their days off will be guaranteed a minimum of four hours of overtime, even if they work fewer hours. Their work time includes the time taken to dress and drive to work.

Officer Sherwood’s overtime was not out of line with that of his colleagues. The situation decried by O’Rourke in 2008 has simply ballooned.  According to there were 51 police officers, including Sherwood, whose incomes in 2012 were also over $200,000. These 51 officers constitute nearly one third of the Clarkstown police force.

Incredibly, 42 Clarkstown Police officers, that is 25% of the Clarkstown police department including the current Police Chief, Michael Sullivan, took home more in 2012 than Raymond Kelly, the Police Commissioner of New York City who earns $205,180.

To quote the NY Times – “Clarkstown officers “augment” their salaries by collecting hundreds of hours of overtime a year — in some cases earned in previous years — and extra earnings for unused holiday, vacation, personal and sick time.”

Supervisor Gromack called the police salaries ‘obscene yet he has nothing about them during the term of his administration. On the contrary he, and the Clarkstown Boared, unanimously agreed to a 13%  increase in the base pay of the police over the next five years which will contribute to even higher payments for overtime and pensions.

The Town Board is scheduled to accept Officer Sherwood’s resignation at its next meeting which will be held on Tuesday, February 05, 2013.

Given this proposed action by the Board, Frank Grandel, President of the Clarkstown Taxpayers Group and Vice President Ralph Sabatini, candidate for Town Supervisor in 2011 note that since Officer Sherwood’s total compensation and his excessive overtime was not out of line with nearly one third of his colleagues the following course of action should be followed:

1) The Town Board should not accept Officer Sherwood’s resignation at this time but place him on temporary administrative leave while, 

2) The Town Board moves to retain an independent firm of auditors to conduct a thorough examination of the overtime charges submitted by all of the members of the Clarkstown police force in 2012 including those submitted by Sherwood.  

The taxpayers of Clarkstown have a right to be assured that what they are paying for police services is being properly expended. An internal audit is not satisfactory for this purpose nor is any assurance from the Town Board that an audit is not necessary.

The Town Board should give attention to the fact that police officers are no different from the citizens and taxpayers of Clarkstown who are routinely subjected to periodic audits on such things as travel expenses on behalf of our employers and tax audits of our personal finances by the government.

The police should be held to these same basic standards. Officer Sherwood’s cooperation should be required before the Town accept his resignation and permit him to escape prosecution.

This article was written by Michael N. Hull on behalf 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.

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