December 01, 2010
New Appointment Raises 'Crony' Concerns
GOP Power Play
Did the GOP majority of the Southampton Town Board use strong-arm tactics to secure a cushy job for a Republican insider?
The board was slated to vote last night on a resolution sponsored by the GOP trio, Councilmen Chris Nuzzi and Jim Malone and Councilwoman Nancy Graboski. The resolution appoints Russell Kratoville to the position of Business Management/Town General Services Administrator, a post currently held by Richard Blowes.
Just two weeks ago the GOP majority re-wrote Superivor Anna-Throne-Holst's budget and passed their own version. In it, they restored the General Services Department.
Blowes will be retiring at the end of the year; he will assume the part-time position of Executive Director of the Housing Authority.
Kratoville, a resident of Aquebogue, is the former Deputy Town Supervisor of Riverhead, having served under then-supervisor James Stark. He also served as a GOP committeeman in Riverhead and deputy comptroller of the Suffolk County Off Track Betting Corp. Kratoville was one of some high profile GOP names jockeying for the job of OTB vice president when Marietta Seaman retired recently.
The Suffolk County Off Track Betting system has long been politically-connected, and declining profits have led to suggestions it be sold or closed altogether.
Critics said Kratoville's appointment is no more than a favor granted to a GOP insider. The position pays approximately $150,000 a year, including benefits.
Throne-Holst said the resolution was surprising, especially since she had sent out a memo to town board members asking them to join her and work on establishing a selection committee, as per the town's hiring procedure regarding appointment of management and professional positions.
A few hours later, said the supervisor, she received the resolution appointing Kratoville. "Our hiring policy has been entirely circumvented in this instance," she said.
Kratoville, who Throne-Holst said is an "unknown" to her, will fill a position that was "redundant" in her proposed 2011 budget.
In her budget,the supervisor abolished the General Services Department which she said is "antiquated," and provides services she believes can be performed more cost effectively. The GOP reinstated it. Rumors in Town Hall say that Blowes was instrumental in helping the trio craft the last minute amendments. The GOP budget shaves spending a delivers a small tax decrease, while the supervisor's called for a small increase.
The position filled by Kratoville, said Throne-Holst, is "among the highest paid" in Town Hall.
Kratoville's appointment "raises serious questions about what the purpose is here -- and about how far our three majority town board members are willing to simply throw procedure to the wind in order to further their agenda," said Throne-Holst. The development is "clearly a crony appointment," adds the supe.
Dismantling general services under her proposed budget would have meant a savings of approximately $335,000 to the town, said Throne-Holst -- and would have symbolized "reform and positive change to the way the town does business. Those efforts are being thwarted at every turn."
Graboski said in her view, the department of general services plays a critical role in town government operation, ensuring continuity of government services across administrations, despite the fact that town elected officials come and go. In addition, she said, the position of town general services administrator plays a key role in coordination and communication between various departments in Town Hall.
"There is no question in my mind about the importance of this role and for the position to be filled with a well-qualified professional," she said.
With Blowes stepping down, "it is in our best interests to fill the position as soon as possible so that Mr. Kratoville will have an opportunity to spend some time transitioning with Mr. Blowes before he leaves," she said.
And, she added, the timing allows Kratoville to give proper notice to his current employer.
The councilwoman said Kratoville was part of a screening process two years ago and all town board members, three of whom are currently on the board, "considered him the strongest candidate."
And, Graboski reminded, there was no fully vetted screening process for current Comptroller Tamar Wright, who was appointed to her post after Steven Brautigham stepped down. "Just as we were confident in Tamara Wright's professional qualifications back then, we are confident in Mr. Kratoville's professionalism, today, and look forward to proceeding directly with the appointment."
Added Nuzzi: "Mr. Kratoville has a breadth of experience that includes all the functions of the business management/general services department he will oversee. He is skilled in budget analysis, project forecasting, as well as internal audits and workplace efficiency."