Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has
Just to clarify:
Nassau County will not -- repeat, not -- use $800,000 in voter-approved environmental bond money to buy property owned by a deputy parks commissioner in County Executive Edward Mangano's Bethpage neighborhood.
Instead -- in a change from what a county official told Newsday in a story Monday -- Nassau will use a portion of its own surplus land sale money to get the deal done.
But changing the funding source does not change the stench rising off this deal.
One deputy Nassau County executive, Charles Theofan, first pitched acquisition of property owned by deputy parks commissioner Frank Camerlengo to the county planning board last month.
He did not tell the board that the seller was a county official -- or, in public at least, that a portion of the property was in foreclosure.
Theofan did tell board members that the Stewart Avenue property was in Mangano's neighborhood. "He's not going to permit anything to happen there that's not in the best interests of the community," Theofan said.
Monday, a Nassau official said the county requested an ethics opinion on the sale before Theofan made the pitch.
But that doesn't qualify as public disclosure, since officials are supposed to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
And the idea of putting the issue before a Mangano-majority-appointed ethics board and expecting an unbiased decision just makes matters worse.
Even the timing of the ethics board's decision, which is expected by May 1, becomes suspect since that's the day the planning board will be meeting.
Could it all be coincidence? Maybe, but there's a lot of evidence pointing to a stacked deck.
Camerlengo was hired shortly after Mangano, a Bethpage Republican, took office. Camerlengo's worked for more than four years, not long enough yet to vest for a defined public employee pension.
Camerlengo served on the Bethpage Chamber of Commerce board -- with Mangano and his wife. And he, his family and his business since 2009 have contributed more than $10,000 to the county executive. The deputy parks commissioner last year got one of the largest pay hikes -- in the midst of a pay freeze that the county's state control board had assumed would apply to union and nonunion workers. Camerlengo's salary went up to $125,000, from $99,000, a 26 percent increase.
And, according to court records, a piece of Camerlengo's Bethpage property went into foreclosure last year.
A hearing in the case was continued five times, the last on March 11 -- nine days before Theofan took his pitch to the planning board. Does the sale even make sense?
The county's Old Bethpage Village Restoration -- Nassau's premier agriculture education center, which has taken a beating during the county's decadelong cash crunch -- lies just 3.5 miles from the Camerlengo property.
So how, exactly, would Nassau residents benefit from adding the Stewart Avenue property to the mix -- especially since, under county ownership, the parcel would leave the tax rolls?
And why is Nassau looking to pay $800,000 for the property? Is the price too high, given the condition of the property? Too low, given the value of the mostly residential neighborhood?
A woman who answered the door at the address that Camerlengo listed on his voter registration told Newsday reporter Paul LaRocco that the land deal was "none of your business."
How the cash-strapped county, already straining to provide services, spends its money is very much the business of Nassau's residents.
The deal smells.