The Cortlandt Town Board will meet Monday night in response to my Tax Watch column on Friday, which found that Deputy Town Attorney John Klarl had received close to $17,000 in cashed-in vacation days, without proper authorization.
Town Board member Frank Farrell said Monday morning that he would expect Klarl to repay the money if it were found that he received it improperly. Klarl said he’d cashed in the vacation days after receiving forms each year from Town Comptroller Glenn Cestaro, asking him how many unused vacation days he wanted to cash in.
Tax Watch found that Klarl, a part-time town employee since 1991, was eligible to cash in his unused vacation days upon his retirement from town service. But only town department heads, like Klarl’s boss and law partner, Thomas Wood, were eligible to cash in vacation days on an annual basis, according to a Town Board resolution approved in 1992.
“The deputy town attorney and comptroller are both honorable guys,” said Farrell. “If Klarl received it and didn’t deserve it, I’m certain he will reimburse the town for it.”
Cestaro last week appeared to be stretching it when he said that Klarl would be eligible to cash in the vacation days because he occasionally served as acting town attorney when Wood was away on vacation. But there was no mention of acting department heads in the town board resolution.
Supervisor Linda Puglisi echoed Cestaro’s theory. But she noted that the Town Board may have to clarify it with an amended resolution.
“The deputy is acting for the department head if he is on vacation or ill or can’t be there on a given day,” Puglisi said.”If that needs to be spelled out, we will do it.”
Even without that change, Puglisi insisted that it was proper for Klarl to receive the money on an annual basis because it would ultimately save taxpayers from having to pay him a lump sum upon his retirement.
“I don’t believe it was improper,” she said. “He would be entitled to the money when he retired. It’s better to have employees take a portion of it every year, instead of one big lump payment at the end.”
Cortlandt attorney Dan Pagano last week maintained that the town had given Klarl a gift, which he said was prohibited by the NY state constitution. He said Puglisi needs to do more to consider Cortlandt taxpayers, not the financial needs of her legal team.
“No one has questioned the arrangement,” he said. “And they never thought they’d get exposed.”
Wood runs the town attorney’s office from the offices of Wood & Klarl in Montrose, about six miles from Town Hall. He became town attorney in 1988. His firm gets paid $700 in rent for the town office, and two part-time town employees provide secretarial services at the office.
Puglisi said she has paid Wood to handle a private legal matter for her.
Town Board member Dr. Richard Becker said he didn’t think Klarl was trying to cheat the system.
“More than likely, he thought he was entitled to the money,” Becker said. “I don’t think there was anything surreptitious.”
Becker also questioned Pagano’s role in the Tax Watch inquiry. He said that Pagano had represented clients who had sued the town. He also asserted that Pagano had represented former Cortlandt Police Chief Robert Pavone, who had been embroiled in a legal dispute with the town since 2008, after Pavone lost his disability claim against the town, and charged it was in retaliation for comments made by his wife, Valerie.
Pavone and Cortlandt reached a settlement on the case on April 17, said Pavone’s attorney Jon Lovett. If approved by the Town Board, Pavone would receive $75,000.
Pagano said he has never represented Pavone. He said Pavone’s organization, the New York Police Chiefs’ Benevolent Association, gets its mail at the office in Yorktown Heights where Pagano also rents space.
“We don’t have a business relationship,” Pagano said. “Bob has a mail drop at our address. He doesn’t conduct business there. He’s rarely ever there.”
He said he had represented Colonial Terrace in a zoning dispute with the town. He had also represented Cortlandt farmer Daniel Muro in 2011 in his bid to have his six-acre parcel included in the county’s agricultural district. The Puglisi administration had opposed the application, which was voted down by a county Board of Legislators’ committee.
Photo: Deputy Town Attorney John Klarl, at Board of Zoning Appeals meeting. /David McKay Wilson