I am back at work after a sad week My father passed away a week ago. I took the week off to reflect on my fathers life. I did not respond to e mails and did not answer phone calls during the past week. Now that the one week mourning period is over, (the Jewish religion calls the first week Shiva) I promise to read and personally respond to every e mail/phone call that I received. It may take me a few days to get back to everyone but I promise to get in touch with all who tried reaching me during my absence.
A thank you to town staff, the Town Board and department heads for being responsive to concerns that were brought to their attention. My father devoted thousands of hours during the past 22 years trying to help the town save money. I know that he would want me to work harder than ever --and to look for new ways to make our town government run more efficiently. I want to make my father proud and every time I think of him (which will be many times a day) I will be inspired to make Greenburgh an even better place to live and work.
THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE APPEARED IN THE MAY 12, 2012 ISSUE OF THE WESTCHESTER BUSINESS JOURNAL ABOUT MY DAD
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Thursday, May 24, 2012 Westchester Business Journal
Ash can maker keeps watch on government waste by John Golden
Phil Feiner carries a cane on his regular weekday visits to Greenburgh Town Hall. It’s a walking aid, a concession to the impairments of a 91-year-old body. The cane is not used to enforce or defend his authority in the offices of government, though some department chiefs at times might be inclined to use it on him. Phil Feiner has no official authority there, though he’s left his mark on how the town goes about its business.
“I want to eliminate the waste in government,” he declared during an afternoon stop at the office of his son and personal chauffeur, Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner. “That’s the only thing.”
A 50-year Scarsdale resident, Phil Feiner has been doing his thing as Greenburgh’s self-appointed fiscal watchdog throughout his son’s long tenure as supervisor. “As a volunteer I’ve been trying to help Greenburgh and Paul’s administration for 21 years,” he said.
At 70, he retired from his family’s business in the Bronx, the Tip Top Ash Can Co., an enterprise born in the coal-burning city in 1915 that finally succumbed to plastics. There he “got to learn everything” about running a small business, which comes with “all kinds of problems” that also can beset municipal managers, he said. Before following his father and brother into garbage can manufacturing, the graduate of St. John’s University worked as an accountant “at accounting firms, large and small.” That too was useful training and experience for his post-retirement mission in Greenburgh.
“In government, there’s a tremendous amount of waste,” he said. “There are no checks and balances, people are very sloppy. Federal government has the problem; local governments have the same problem.”
According to his son, who also drives his unpaid adviser to his daily workouts at a fitness club, “He comes in once or twice a week looking at vouchers and double-checking to make sure that the town is not wasting money. It’s like an inspector general.”
The sharp-eyed retiree checks for required signatures on invoices. He has recommended more timely payments to vendors. Before Phil complained about the lax practice, the town’s gas and oil deliveries were not metered.
“Most of it is really psychological,” he said. In the offices he visits to scrutinize vouchers, “They all know what I’m doing.”
“At the beginning, I used to spend two to three days” a week at Town Hall, Phil said. “I used to go to the departments all over and uncover a lot of these things.”
Among those things, Phil discovered the town police department’s emergency medical service was not billing insurance companies for its ambulance runs. As he suggested, the police chief did away with that largesse. “Now we get about $1 million a year” in reimbursements, he said.
Then there was the town’s printing broker. Phil thought the town’s printing costs were too high and shopped around. He found a printer in Yonkers “at one-third the price of what they paid before,” he said. “They use him still,” and the town’s savings have reached six figures.
There was the roof replacement project at the town library, for which contractors’ estimates came in at about $300,000. The former manager at Tip Top Ash Can thought that was awfully steep for a roof.
“I had experience because I had a facility in the Bronx,” he said. “I went through this. I located somebody, they did it for $25,000. We had a $275,000 savings.”
There was that $300 monthly invoice from the town’s exterminator that bugged Phil. He checked around in the pest-control trade and got another quote of $50. “They use the same people and it’s still $50 today,” he said.
A few weeks ago, Phil saw a voucher for $105,000 in emergency repairs to a broken water main. He insisted that the charges be itemized.
His son the supervisor realized his father was on to something: “We should be doing spot checks after the work is done to see if a potential competitor would be charging the same thing for the same service.
“He comes up with really great ideas. In the past year or so, the suggestions my father has brought to my attention have been the best – one great idea after another. The recommendations really have been getting better.”
“I really feel like no government and no business is perfect,” Paul Feiner said. “I think it’s really important to have independent eyes and ears.”
“I admire my son, what he’s doing,” said the vigilant accountant. “Most politicians, there’s plus and minus. If he wasn’t an honest politician, I wouldn’t spend my time. I’d go down to Florida and take it easy.”
“A lot of people, I’m sure, would be happy if my father went to Florida,” said the supervisor. “They’d probably have a victory party. They might even buy the condo” far from Greenburgh Town Hall