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Feb 25, 2009 1:00 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Republican majority on Southampton Town Board quashes plan to restructure financial department

Feb 25, 2009 1:00 PM

Southampton Town Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst got a taste of what life can be like for one of the board’s minority members on Tuesday.

Her plan to create a commissioner of finance position—a move that would have essentially demoted Town Comptroller Steve Brautigam and tapped the town’s current financial consultant Tamara Wright to fill the commissioner slot—ran into a solid wall of Republican opposition. And a watered-down version of her initiative, a resolution that simply requested that the town attorney’s office draft a legal opinion of how the financial restructuring could be implemented in the future, was defeated by a 3-2 vote, with only Ms. Throne-Holst and Democratic Town Councilwoman Sally Pope voting in favor of the measure.

Town Supervisor Linda Kabot and Councilman Chris Nuzzi and Nancy Graboski, all Republicans, opposed the measure. Ms. Throne-Holst is an independent candidate who secured endorsement from Southampton Town Democrats in last year’s election.

After learning about Ms. Throne-Holst’s proposal in the media prior to Tuesday’s meeting, Ms. Kabot sent the councilwoman a private e-mail that verbally lambasted her for discussing personnel issues with a reporter from 27east.com, the website for The Southampton Press newspapers, and accused Ms. Throne-Holst of politicizing what, in her opinion, is a personnel issue that should have only been discussed behind closed doors.

“This is nothing but grandstanding and an attempt to grab headlines,” Ms. Kabot said on Tuesday. “You broke our bond of trust. What we discussed should not have ended up in the newspaper. This is an attempt at one-upmanship.”

“What you call one-upmanship I call leadership,” retorted Ms. Throne-Holst who has been rumored to be considering challenging Ms. Kabot for supervisor in November—a charge that Ms. Throne-Holst has neither confirmed nor denied.

“I obviously have a different approach to the press than you,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “I believe the public has a right to know what we are talking about when it comes to our financial house and how we operate. There’s no secret that time is ticking. When we have numerous audits coming in, including the IRS, the state, an outside forensic audit on our capital budget, we need to position our best people to solve these problems.”

If Ms. Throne-Holst’s original plan had been introduced and implemented, Ms. Wright would have been charged with overseeing the town’s finances and its Department of Information Technology, which is responsible for the implementation and maintenance of the town’s financial software systems and the recording and preparation of accounting reports.

Under the pulled proposal, Ms. Wright would have been paid about $110,000 and would have been subordinate only to the town supervisor who, by state law, is the town’s chief financial officer. Also, Mr. Brautigam would have been demoted to the town’s director of audit and control, a position that exists but is now vacant, and would have seen his annual salary decrease from $117,000 to $85,000.

Ms. Throne-Holst said that she wanted to remove Mr. Brautigam from his current post because of his experience with state audits. At Tuesday’s meeting, the Town Board unanimously agreed to have the New York State Comptroller audit the town’s financial books following the discovery of a discrepancy—as low as $250,000 and as high as $19 million, depending on who is asked—in the town’s capital budget.

Though she intended on introducing on Tuesday her original plan calling for the creation of a finance commissioner position, Ms. Throne-Holst said she instead suggested the other plan after the town attorney’s office offered conflicting opinions about whether or not what she had proposed could be legally implemented. For example, she said that Brookhaven Town, which is classified as a “Suburban Town,” has a commissioner of finance. However, Southampton Town is classified as a “Town of the First Class” and has a town comptroller.

“I was initially told we could establish the position,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “But then I was told later that wasn’t clear.” This lack of clarity, the councilwoman said, was the main reason she asked the town attorney to outline a legal opinion to steer the financial reorganization—and that was the measure that was quashed on Tuesday.

Additionally, certain positions at Town Hall are civil service posts and, therefore, protected. Mr. Brautigam is a civil service employee and cannot be demoted without ample reason. Ms. Throne-Holst said she wanted to move forward with her resolution in order to clarify the legal guidelines regarding the town’s civil service employees.

Though she agrees that the town needs to clean up its financial situation, Ms. Kabot said that, in her opinion, Ms. Throne-Holst aired information that should have remained confidential—namely the discussion about possibly demoting Mr. Brautigam. Ms. Throne-Holst disagreed with that position, explaining that she thought it was appropriate for her to discuss potential changes to town policies and the structure of town government.

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So let me see...Wright has been there getting paid $400 + a day since April, the books are a mess, no one knows what the balances are and she couldn't find the accounting files that were left behind in the comptrollers office.
Yeah, let's hire her for $110K per year, sounds like she can straighten it out.
And le't keep the comptroller there too, 80K and all he has to do is show up.
Since we're taking Information Technology away from Blowes are we reducing his inflated salary?
Sounds ...more
By Hamptonman911 (14), Southampton on Feb 24, 09 8:24 AM
It's amazing. Ms. Throne-Holst wants us to believe in her and trust her. One day while I was in town hall I saw a little dog running around, barking. When I made a comment about the poorly trained, unleashed service dog I was informed that it was Ms. Throne-Holst's dog and not a service dog. Because she is a counsel member the 'Service Dogs Only' laws and the 'leash laws' do not apply to her. What other laws don't apply to her?
By NativeHalsey (1), Southampton on Feb 24, 09 8:42 AM
This is getting a little too messy as far as I am concerned. Brautigan and Blowes should be escorted out of Town Hall. These guys seem to have too much authority and too little accountability.

The State Comptroller's office needs to get here ASAP and jump all over this.

By William Rodney (561), southampton on Feb 24, 09 9:07 AM
Sounds great!

Instead of making current employees actually accountable and mandate that they do the jobs they are supposed to do, lets make up additional positons with cushy benefits and pensions!!


I would like to throw my hat in the ring for the 'Czar of Budgeting' positon that will inevitably be coming. Or perhaps 'Minister of Capital Accounts'

By C Law (354), Water Mill on Feb 24, 09 9:11 AM
Enough of this-no more public meetings or statements about the town's financial problems. We can't let everyone know what a mess we have on our hands. Back to keeping the information a secret.
Thank the Southampton Press for causing all these problems.
By eastquogueguy (22), East Quogue on Feb 24, 09 9:26 AM
I too would like to offer my services to the Town. I will accept a salary of $100,000 per year, use of a Town owed car, pension and medical benefits.

In exchange, I will shuffle paper all day, release statements to the Press that I am working hard and expect to have the Town's financial problems fixed shortly once I fix the mess caused by the Administration that left office in 1962.

Plus, I get bonus if I reconcile the missing money in the capital budget before OJ finds ...more
By CommonSense (71), Southampton on Feb 24, 09 9:54 AM
Why should the taxpayers foot the bill for another person to oversee town finances at a salary of $110,000 per year with benefits? I think the taxpayers should get rid of Blowes, Bratigam and most of all Kabot and get people in office who are more capable of managing public money. What a mess this has turned out to be.
By fdp (23), southampton on Feb 24, 09 10:10 AM
Thanks to the Southampton Press for exposing some of the financial problems. We still don't know what remains hidden behind Richard Blowes office doors. We need still more and total transparency.

Sally Pope is right! Let's get the state in to evaluate the accounting process mess. We don't even know how much money we have on hand. How in Heaven's name can we move on?
By Bob Whyte (48), Hampton Bays on Feb 24, 09 10:52 AM
After living with the current leadership, it is clear that the Town of Southampton needs a major financial shake-up. The current group does not seem to know what they are doing...That includes our current supervisor. A-T-H has been asking for real numbers for a year, and she is an elected official, a councilwoman. If she cannot get real numbers then how can the rest of us get the bottom lines from the Supervisors office. I welcome this reorganization. After reading the article, this is not going ...more
By SHNative (554), Southampton on Feb 24, 09 11:19 AM
By pinga (90), hamptonbays on Feb 24, 09 6:31 PM
You're doin' a heck of a job, Blowesey.
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Feb 25, 09 12:02 AM
Accountability has been a four letter word in Town Hall for too long. The proposal outlined in this article does not appear to add one dollar of cost to the Town while achieving a much higher degree of accountability. Of course, given the track record of this administration any accountability will be a higher degree of accountability. What will be interesting to watch is how the supervisor will twist this proposal into a whiney criticism of the newspapers, or Ms. Throne-Holst, or anyone who see ...more
By Viewpoint (26), Southampton on Feb 25, 09 7:23 AM
Thats great. Lets knock down a person salary by $32,000 and give someone else a huge raise that hasn't been there that long. You can pay me the $450 a day or $110,000 plus benefits a year to tell the town what they need to buy and what they dont need to buy. It seems as if when people start slacking, the administration doesn't put their foot down and take action on the problem. The only thing they do to fix it is create another position in hopes that thesituation will resolve itself. Just another ...more
By courtesy (43), Southampton on Feb 25, 09 8:49 AM
No more new positions-too much is being revealed to the public already. How can we get our work done with the public looking over our shoulders all the time. Please bring back Skip.
By EmployeeSH (4), Southampton on Feb 25, 09 11:38 AM
What is ONE UPMANSHIP? It sounds to me like Linda Kabot protests too much. Perhaps if Kabot had any idea of how to lead, we would not be in this mess. Oh well, I guess we will stay with the same group who could not figure this out in a year. "Bring in the state."
By SHNative (554), Southampton on Feb 25, 09 2:30 PM
If Ms. Kabot had the time to write an e-mail in protest, then I am sure she had time to draft a counter proposal. Would the Press publish it please?

By CommonSense (71), Southampton on Feb 25, 09 3:31 PM
Ms Wright seems to be just what the doctor ordered. It's clear that Anna Throne-Holst is providing leadership and attempting mightily to straighten out the financial mess. Kudos to Sally Pope also; she called for a state audit during last year's campaign.
By number19 (111), Westhampton on Feb 25, 09 5:05 PM
Way to go Linda-lets get back to business as usual.
By EmployeeSH (4), Southampton on Feb 25, 09 9:17 PM
Why is there a problem with the budget? There's nothing complicated about a town budget. Salaries are tied to headcount, along with benefits with those salaries. Pensions for past employees are defined and managed by the state pension fund anyway, aren't they? The rest of it is capital projects, which are bid out and funded, and therefore individually accounted for by each project separately. If the project hasn't begun, then it is a "pending" spreadsheet. Any 2nd year CPA at any medium sized ...more
By davidf (325), hampton bays on Feb 25, 09 11:56 PM
Hey Davidf...do you want a job? The Supervisors office could use a bit of direction in this area. I agree that A T-H found the right person. I hope that the majority will seriously reconsider this reorganization in town hall. A T-H has good, clear ideas and Kabot is doing her best to put down those initiatives. Linda Kabot is showing her leadership style by crushing good ideas which will work well for the people of the town. This obstructionism seems to be one of the biggest problems in town hall.
By SHNative (554), Southampton on Feb 26, 09 8:49 AM
Interesting that Charlene Kagel handled the department expertly for five years for less than $100,000. She resigned in part because she said she did not trust Linda as the chief financial office. Boy was she right!
By Hampton (50), Westhampton on Feb 26, 09 9:10 AM
Linda Kabot approval rating: .01% (herself)
By landarchi (33), Southampton on Feb 26, 09 10:18 AM
Glad the Republicans stuck together and stopped these silly ideas before things really get out of hand. Back to business as usual.
By westhamptonboy (227), Westhampton on Feb 26, 09 4:06 PM
It is just too bad that the revolution of enlightened thought passed right over Southampton. The Republican party has been marginalized all around us, but here the same old tactics and ideologies are still warmly embraced. We need to get with the rest of the country and we need to do it soon.
By dagdavid (646), southampton on Feb 27, 09 12:25 AM
This is starting to sound like Easthampton all over again

Lets see….. financial problems hire
a financial consultant when that becomes a disaster… then get rid of that person and
hire a CPA …on the road to recovery

Southampton…….hire a financial person to the comptrollers
position……..that becomes a problem ….lets get rid of that person and hire another financial person…..what does the future bring?

Thiele is drafting legislation requiring comptrollers
be ...more
By Hamptonman911 (14), Southampton on Feb 28, 09 8:39 AM
Southampton Town Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst is acting in the interest of the community....what are you doing Supervisor Kabot? Sounds like it's either your way or the highway.....clearly fiscal irresponsibility is the "business as usual" that some want and few benefit from. What has happened to open honest government? Ms. Kabot "supervisor" does not mean Queen for a day.
By JVB (7), Westhampton on Mar 2, 09 6:30 PM