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There’s Something Rotten in Denmark—and in Croton Government, Too

February 17, 2008

Village Treasurer Abraham ZambranoAt the village board meeting on January 29, 2008, current Village Treasurer Abraham Zambrano was named Interim Village Manager following the surprise resignation of longtime Village Manager Richard Herbek. Mr. Zambrano is expected to fill the posts of village treasurer and manager until March 28, 2008. What happens after that date has not been made clear, other than that after that date, Mr. Zambrano becomes Acting Village Manager. What is most peculiar is that no one is asking any questions about this peculiar and self-perpetuating line of succession. Or what happens next.

At the coming village board meeting on Tuesday evening, February 19, at 8:00 p.m., a resolution will be introduced retroactively raising the salary of Village Treasurer Abraham Zambrano by $35,000 from $125,318 to $160,318. This would put Mr. Zambrano’s salary for managing a tiny village very close to Andy Spano’s annual income of $160,760 for managing the entire county of Westchester—a difference of only $442, to be exact. According to our sources, the resolution was authored by Mr. Zambrano.

In short, for managing Croton with an annual budget of 14 million, Mr. Zambrano would be getting nearly as much as Andy Spano gets for managing Westchester County and its annual budget of $1.7 billion (actual amount: $1,702,848,487). Thus, although Westchester’s budget is 121 times the size of Croton’s, their salaries will be almost the same. Something’s very much out of whack here in Croton.

There are several aspects of this deal that are particularly odoriferous. First, Mr. Zambrano has never exhibited any masterly managerial qualities in his role as treasurer. In fact, it will be recalled, he has shown himself only to be little more than an unimaginative, plodding, green eyeshade bookkeeper who pleases the mayor by not making waves. We know him as the admitted author of the scheme that sent inflated phony water bills to village residents. Intended to scare them into installing remote water meters, his scam miscarried and made Croton the laughingstock of the nation. The Zambrano-generated imbroglio caused victimized residents to set up such a howl, it became a national scandal from coast to coast after the Associated Press picked up the story (from ABC

Now we are led to believe that Mr. Zambrano has so much managerial talent he can do two high-level jobs without breaking into a sweat. This is indeed curious since we were given to understand that Richard Herbek was a veritable workhorse who put in 16- to 18-hour days. One cannot be blamed for thinking that there cannot be much to Mr. Zambrano’s job as treasurer if he can now be both village treasurer and village manager without batting an eyelash.

Complicating the growing belief that something is rotten in Denmark other than overripe Havarti cheese is the fact that the village has created no search committee to find a candidate to fill Mr. Herbek’s shoes. Rumors are flying that hint of a palace coup of unbelievable Machiavellian craftiness—all hinging on the outcome of the upcoming election. Stay tuned.

On February 24, 2008 8:09 PM, TeaDrinker said:

This is a P.S. to my previous comment: I forgot to mention that it was at a local firehouse that I first heard about the way three senior executives of the Village were supposedly forced into resigning. In addition to the Municipal Building and the Municipal Garage, I understand that other local firehouses are all abuzz with speculation about the removal of the three individuals. Anybody got anything to add to this weird story?

On February 24, 2008 8:21 AM, TeaDrinker said:

“oldtimer” and “weewill” have barely scratched the surface of this story. I’m usually out of the loop when it comes to Village gossip. The talk among the troops at the Municipal Garage, the Municipal Building, and Police Headquarters revolves around a single question. What did Mayor Schmidt and Trustee Brennan have on Ken Kraft (55 years old), Richard Herbek (61 years old), and Dennis Coxen (59 years old) to make them hand in their walking papers? I’ve heard all kinds of theories. The word is all three were forced to resign and walk the plank before the usual retirement age of 65 years old. All three went like meek little lambs to the slaughterhouse. Strange goings-on in Croton I must say. The people of Croton are totally ignorant of what is going on under their noses. They should be asking questions and demanding answers.

On February 23, 2008 7:42 PM, TeaDrinker said:

“Weewill’s” comments are completely logical and to the point—and will probably be ignored, but these concerns are now on the record. Since no one has mentioned it, I’ll raise the subject. And the subject is the Mayor’s increasingly dictatorial behavior. The so-called search committee is “packed” with people who will do his bidding. I never heard of a business corporation that set out to find a Chief Operating Officer (COO) in this haphazard, irresponsible manner.

The Village of Croton-on-Hudson was incorporated in 1898. As in other incorporated villages, the title of the head of the village was President. After confusion arose over who was meant by the term President—the head of an incorporated village or the President of the United States—was the name changed to Mayor. Some villages elsewhere in this country still retain the title of President.

Croton is now facing the task of replacing its former COO. This incorporated village should go about finding a COO in the same way any responsible corporation would. Presumably there is a job description somewhere in the Village’s files that covers the duties of Village Manager. Add to these the qualities described in “weewill’s” comments. Salary ranges next should be set. The job opening should then be advertised in appropriate civil service journals. Perhaps even a headhunter who specializes in high-level municipal job searches should be engaged. We want the best talent available and should not be limiting the search to present employees, a ridiculous way of filling this important position.

Since no one has mentioned it, I’ll raise another subject. The talk going around is that the Mayor has his eye on the job of village manager for himself, so maybe the haphazard job search fits right in with his plan. The salary is certainly tempting enough. And it sure beats pounding and kneading people’s backs on a chiropractic table. The plot hinges on at least one Republican trustee candidate getting elected. That would yield a Republican majority on the Village Board, which would then award the job of Village Manager to the Mayor.

Next, Deputy Mayor Tom Brennan would move into the vacated mayoral chair and appoint the defeated Republican candidate as trustee. If both Republican trustee candidates win, then a fourth Republican would be chosen as trustee. This would yield five Republican votes on every issue—and all would be under the thumb of the new Village Manager, Gregory J. Schmidt. And he wouldn’t have to stand for election every two years.

Sounds a bit too devious and Karl Rovian to be true, doesn’t it? But after what’s been going on in Washington for the past seven years, nothing would surprise us. The only stumbling block standing in the way of this plot succeeding is that the Republicans haven’t chosen two very strong trustee candidates. But then any competent candidates with integrity wouldn’t be the two bobble-head dolls named Joe and Joann the Republicans are running in this election.

On February 23, 2008 1:39 PM, weewill said:

The Mayor has announced a citizen’s search committee to identify a new Village Manager. The committee named consists of the Mayor himself, one village resident, Peggy Keesler and current department heads. (Wisely he included Peggy Keesler who is an excellent addition based on her 30 years broad experience working in the Manager’s office.)

No village employee, department head or other, should be expected to serve on such a committee. The Mayor has placed people in the untenable position of choosing/hiring their boss. This is unheard of in good personnel practices and policies. Since all staff report to the Village Manager. he or she will be evaluating performance, monitoring work habits and supervising each of them. A subordinate employee should not be expected to evaluate and choose his or her “boss.”

Additionally, the Mayor, by appointing village employees whose very jobs depend in some measure upon him and his good will, have been placed in a compromised position. As co-committee members they will be under unfair pressure to comply with his choice so as not to disagree with their “boss.” This creates a situation not conducive to clear unobstructed choice.

And the most egregious error or void - why is Rick Herbek not heading up the committee? He remains on the payroll until the end of September and is clearly the person who knows the job best. He developed it into what it is today over the past 30 years and knows every pitfall and every high point. Who better to choose his successor. In addition, Rick is the President of the prestigious ICMA (International City Managers Association) leaders in the field of municipal management. Rick has been called upon for his expertise in this field in villages, towns and cities across the United States and was chosen by a panel of his peers to lead that organization It boggles the mind that he was not asked to serve on our local committee. (Perhaps he was asked and turned the Mayor down, but I would very much like to know that if it happened.)

Taken from an ICMA release and listed below are just some of the qualities to be identified in a new Village Manager. It will take a skilled and qualified interviewer to search for and identify the person who possesses most of these qualities.

Team Leadership, Delegating, Financial Analysis, Empowerment, Strategic Planning, Functional/Operational Area of Expertise, Citizen Service, Vision, Facilitative Leadership, Interpersonal Communication, Initiative and Risk Taking, Diversity, Presentation Skills, Mediation/Negotiation, Democratic Advocacy, Creativity and Innovation, Media Relations, Operational Planning,Citizen Participation,Coaching/Mentoring,Professional and Organizational Integrity, Advocacy, Human Resources Management, Technological Literacy

This will be no easy task. And because it’s so far reaching and important to the future of this village, the process must be careful, professional and proven if it’s to succeed.

On February 18, 2008 4:09 PM, weewill said:

Let me be perfectly clear. I have great respect for Abe Zambrano. My questions have to do with process only and not with capabilities or qualifications. Abe is fine young man and an extremely competent professional.

Both Dan O’Connor, Village Engineer and Janine King, Ass’t to the Village Manager with a Masters in Public Administration appear to be emminently qualified. Both have been employees of the village longer and worked probably even more directly with the Village Manager. Were they given equal consideration?

Did the Board offer the stipend or did Mr. Zambrano request it as a condition of acceptance of the offer? Would he not have accepted the temporary position without it?

Is a stipend being considered for Laurie, the Ass’t Treasurer who will by default pick up the treasurer’s job responsibilities? If not, why not?

It is not unusual in the real world of business to require subordinate employees to step up to the plate in the absence of a superior. It’s viewed as a valuable tool for career enhancement and employee development for the person so honored and trusted.

Was Rick Herbek consulted about the appropriate choice for interim. He certainly knows the capabilities of each of the above mentioned employees and it seems would have provided valuable input.

Will there be yearly increase in Mr. Zambrano’s salary in this year’s budget in addition to the stipend?

Was this role shifting a board a decision or one made by the Mayor alone?

Moves such as this require full disclosure and open communication with not only fellow board members, but fellow staff members and the public as well.

It’s my hope that such disclosure will be forthcoming. I would further hope that a citizen’s committee of respected professionals in various disciplines be formed before making a final choice for a new permanent Village Manager. It would be wise to include Rick Herbek on such a committee.

This is an important chapter in the life of our Village and we want it to move forward in the right direction.

Georgianna Grant


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