Tuesday, October 26, 2010

December 31, 2009: Accounting Lessons

December 31, 2009
Accounting Lessons

A couple of weeks ago as I was writing an e-mail newsletter, I had drafted a sentence sharing the shocking news that nothing earth-shattering had happened in Hoboken government and politics since the special election in November which decisively installed Dawn Zimmer as mayor.  My work on the newsletter was then delayed, and of course ... kaboom.

Must Be a Great School!
Hoboken made the front page of the December 22 edition of The New York Times, though it is unclear exactly why this story reappeared in the news that particular day.  (It was news back in September.)  But it’s a good one!

My favorite part of this story is that the president of the Stevens Institute is paid more than the presidents of Harvard, MIT, and Princeton.  (When I say that to someone, the invariable response is “Combined?”  No – even Hoboken has some level of restraint after all!  Well, maybe.)  But how can that be surprising when one knows that the Hoboken police commissioner is paid more than the New York City police commissioner?  (Now you know, too.)  On pondering this weighty matter, I suddenly realized something was wrong about my own salary – and I got back to work.

For what it’s worth, Stevens is the nation’s oldest technological university.  (Take that MIT, RPI, Caltech...!)

Brother, Can You Spare a Quarter?  Great, Then How 
Bout 4 Million Quarters?
Somehow unheralded in the Times was the December 10 indictment of John Corea, the former Director of the Hoboken Parking Utility, in the matter of the disappearance of some four million quarters.  Now that’s a REALLY good one.  A local blogger wrote that 4 million quarters weigh 50,000 pounds.  I figured that must be a rounding (assuming accurate in the first place), and this led to an exciting and feverish minute or two on Google.

First, I tried this:

With that I visited these links:

Rather consistent at 5.67 grams.  So:


Thus yielding precisely 50,000.8412 pounds.  Indeed!

I shared the above information with some distinguished musicians at a holiday party, and curiously they weren’t interested in this useful expansion of their knowledge, but rather wanted to know how much space it takes to store that many quarters.  I was puzzled by this reaction and then it occurred to me they all live in (evidently cramped) New York City apartments.  But of course I had to tackle this wonderful Word Problem.  I may not have gone to MIT – or Stevens – but I always loved those math puzzlers as a kid.

OK, first I found the size of a quarter as 1.75 mm thick and 24.26 mm in diameter.  Now, here’s the trick part of the question:  Sure, figure out the volume of a quarter using the formula for a cylinder (╬ár2h), but you’re never going to find a way to store the quarters that efficiently.  Welcome to the real world.  Closer to reality would be to treat the quarters as rectangular prisms (volume equals the product of the three dimensions).  That’s what I’m going to do here, though in fact it would be possible to be a bit more efficient by letting tubes of quarters alternate so one row settles into the rounded dip of the rows on either side.  Mostly I confess I don’t want to spin my wheels attempting to figure that one out (I have an old grammar school friend who DID go to MIT, and you can guess what will be in my next e-mail to him.), but a much better excuse is, “How could you expect some guy in South Jersey to stack them up that neatly?”  So, I’ll treat the volume of each quarter as 1,029.9583 cubic millimeters (1.75 x 24.26 x 24.26), and thus 4 million would come to 4,119,833,200 cubic millimeters.  That comes to 145.490536 cubic feet.

Let’s take this to its logical conclusion.  A typical overpriced Manhattan studio apartment is in the vicinity of 600 square feet, and figuring the ceiling at 9 feet, that’s 5,400 cubic feet.  (Sounds bigger already!)  That means you could jam 148,463,265 quarters in that apartment (well, assuming there are no furnishings whatever – but what do you expect at that price?), which comes to $37,115,816.25.  Approximately the price of that apartment, I think.  (This is sort of the equivalent of the price of a slice of pizza tracking the cost of a ride on the subway, at least until those multifarious Metro Cards messed up the karma.)

OK, but you wanted to hear more about the missing quarters.
Well, about two years ago, in a meeting about the proposed municipal budget, one city councilor noticed that the line item for income from the parking meters was off by about $1 million compared to the previous year.  He asked the city’s Corporation Council about this, and got an answer along the lines of, “Uhhhhh.  I’ll have to look into that.”  (I watched the video, and there were at least five h’s in his Uh.)  At a subsequent meeting a few days later, the Director of Parking, John Corea, was asked about this and he reported that he’d conducted an internal audit and determined that there was indeed a discrepancy, but that it came to precisely $34.61.  No one seemed to take him up on how any quantity of missing quarters could come to that, but moving right along, the director said that he’d been lax about “enforcement” because of spending so much time dealing with the Automated Parking Garage (wow, don’t get me started – just let it suffice that I don’t recommend parking in this garage if you like your car to be taller than a pancake).  Thus, the implication is that because he was otherwise busy, the fine citizens of Hoboken and our much appreciated visitors got wise and stopped feeding the meters.

Anyway, some further internal auditing ensued and it was determined that as the result of a mysteriously made no-bid contract, a somewhat questionable firm based in Toms River, run by one Brian Petaccio, which deals with vending machines (did anyone mention the Mob?), had been taking care of our business.  Rather than depositing the coins in the bank across the street from City Hall that had previously had such honor, the coins were being trucked to Toms River, deposited in the firm’s account, and then a transfer would be made to the city coffers.  Petaccio’s firm was asked to take a look at their books; they miraculously found that a mistake had been made, and coughed up $575,000.  This all by the early part of March 2008.

Things got quiet after that, but plenty of rumors swirled.  Corea kept his job through the end of the then mayor’s term and through the brief Cammarano era.  But that wasn’t surprising given how he had been hired.  At the time, the city had imposed on itself a hiring freeze, but with a loophole that the mayor could hire someone so long as the salary was less than $25,000.  Well, Mayor David Roberts decided to demote the standing director (who subsequently successfully sued the city and won a $400,000 settlement – that’s 1,600,000 quarters), and install Mr. Corea to the tune of a $24,500 salary.  Subsequently Corea got raises (this evidently OK – pretty good loophole) to raise him to over $100,000.  But even at $24,500 the job might have seemed enticing, as Corea had recently been banished for life from the New York Stock Exchange.

The indictment accuses Corea of splitting $600,000 (2,400,000 quarters) with Mr. Petaccio, this IN ADDITION to the $575,000 returned back in 2008.  Mr. Petaccio pled guilty to this same crime back in September (though there was no trace of this in the news until the Corea indictment, curiously), has agreed to restitution of $300,000, and is awaiting sentencing.  Would you think things look good for Mr. Corea?

On becoming Acting Mayor this past summer, one of Dawn Zimmer’s first acts was to demote Mr. Corea, which elicited howling protests, including from Mr. Corea at a City Council meeting.  She couldn’t fire him due to civil service rules, but she was able to cut back his salary to about $40,000 and reassign him.  He quit.

In Corea’s place, Zimmer appointed Ian Sacs as Transportation and Parking Utility Director (note the expansion to involve more than parking).  I have had some communication with Mr. Sacs.  A few weeks ago I witnessed a young boy bolt out of the front door of the pre-school our son attends and proceed to run between two parked cars into the street.  An oncoming car missed him (and his father in hot pursuit) by a hair.  A couple of afternoons later I decided to send an e-mail to my newly-appointed city councilor (who is filling Mayor Zimmer’s term until a special election in November) to bring this to his attention, my concern being that while the car was definitely not speeding and no one had done anything in the least reprehensible (the school is a real gem so far as my wife and I are concerned), that I thought the speed limit should be lower in front of a school building (as it is for some other Hoboken school buildings) during schools hours than the standard city-wide 25 MPH.  Councilor Lenz forwarded my message to Mr. Sacs and some other department directors at about 10 PM that evening, raising some questions of his own.  Mr. Sacs in turn responded at 11 PM, writing a 1052 word response.

Whether this will result in action has yet to be seen, but it occurred to me that the work ethic at Hoboken City Hall may be evolving.  Things might get boring (the 1052 word essay was good, but not THAT good).  My apologies should such ensue.

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