All sorts of bad news for Nassau residents

Nassau County seal Nassau County seal Photo Credit: Handout

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has ...

This was not a good week for Nassau County residents.

On Friday, a federal judge held Peter Schmitt, the legislature's presiding officer, in contempt for telling residents some of what's in a 3-year-old secret report that Schmitt also said detailed dysfunction from the bottom to the top of the county police department.

So now residents, whose grandchildren still will be paying off a $7.7 million borrowing, plus interest, to settle the Jo'Anna Bird case, may be adding Schmitt's fine and the cost of his legal defense to that bill.

Still, residents will learn almost nothing of how police failed to properly handle domestic abuse calls involving Bird, who was later killed by her boyfriend. How can residents know the department is fixed if they can't know what the problems were?

It makes no sense. And neither does the likely foul-up on two big legislative votes detailed in a Newsday report about Dennis Dunne, a lawmaker recovering from surgery, who voted Wizard-of-Oz-like from a back room in apparent violation of state law.

So, what happens to the votes? Likely, they'd have to go through the legislative process all over again. But they shouldn't.

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One measure gave County Executive Edward Mangano power to cut the budget, a power he already has. The measure also supposedly gave Mangano enough power to unilaterally change union contracts -- a move administration officials know likely would not withstand a court challenge.

But what of the other big measure, which redirected red-light camera revenue from youth and other service agencies? That one ought to go bye-bye, too.

The change in county law was another piece of action-figure-like derring-do geared toward muddying legislative Democrats -- who, to Mangano's chagrin, are blocking borrowing to pay successful property tax appeal refunds.

Mangano already had power on that measure, too. He could always cut costs, giving 30 days' notice that such contracts would be canceled. He did just that recently. As a result, come July 1, some of the agencies that provide those services likely will go out of business.

Nassau last week also managed to push into the State Senate a bill that would save the local Youth Board programs -- on the condition that state law be amended so Nassau can travel back in time.

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Mangano wants approval to reach back, before Nassau had a control board, to use bonding authorized but never used then to borrow now -- so that neither Democrats nor a state fiscal control board could stop him.

Yes, the administration wants to use that money to settle a backlog of accumulated property-tax-refund debt. But officials have yet to acknowledge creating an even bigger, and ever growing, new backlog because Nassau can't afford to pay out current refunds.

Wouldn't it make better policy sense to amend state law so higher-rated NIFA could do Nassau's borrowing?

Last week, the Mangano administration, for the first time, publicly acknowledged that Nassau likely would close out 2011 with a $50-million hole. That gap could have been bigger, much bigger had NIFA -- after a lengthy and expensive court fight with Nassau -- not stepped in and frozen wages.

The proposal before the Senate does include a requirement that Nassau help balance the 2012 budget by cutting $100 million in expenses before being allowed to borrow.

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Big whoop.

That's $50 million less than cuts Mangano promised, and failed, to give NIFA by February.

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