Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has Show More
Here we go again?
On Monday, it took only four Nassau lawmakers -- fewer than a quarter of the 19-member legislature -- to approve a contract on a proposal that ultimately could shift responsibility for setting water rates from the municipality to a private operator.
The legislature's Rules Committee, splitting -- as always, it seems -- along party lines, approved fellow Republican County Executive Edward Mangano's request to hire a consultant to determine the feasibility of Nassau's leasing its sewer and storm water system in exchange for as close to $1 billion as possible.
A few red flags did fly during the debate between Republicans and Democrats on whether to hire financial services consultant KPMG.
How, Democrats asked, how can a firm -- whose fee potentially could rise to more than $3 million should a leasing deal go through, according to the contract -- be expected to render a neutral opinion?
It's one good question. And there are plenty of others, too.
If the leasing plan goes through -- and it still reeks of the kind of backdoor borrowing that scuttled Mangano's first attempt to push it through -- what mechanism is there for review of rate increases?
But the biggest puzzle here has nothing to do with the pros or cons of the sewer proposal.
The key question is why does Nassau keep pushing proposals to fundamentally change how residents receive services at a time when so many other initiatives already are going awry?
Take Nassau bus service, which, officials said when pushing the deal, was supposed to flourish under private management.
An audit released by County Comptroller George Maragos in April, however, found a "significant decline in fixed route service levels and certain critical performance measures that were not maintained."
What about Twin Rinks, a privately funded ice skating facility on public land in Eisenhower Park? In March, Mangano gave his State of the County address at the facility, touting the benefits of public-private partnerships. Last month, the rink's owners filed for bankruptcy.
Their primary asset? A 30-year licensing agreement with Nassau, which would become part of the package a bankruptcy-court appointed broker will offer to potential buyers. Shouldn't the license have reverted to Nassau, where elected officials could have screened potential new owners?
Nassau's personal services contract with one firm, AbTech Industries, ended up at the center of a federal corruption investigation against former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and his son Adam.
Another pair of personal services contracts, with former NYPD Det. Richard "Bo" Dietl to study a police merger and a treatment plant's security, is now under scrutiny by Nassau's district attorney's office.
Payments to Harendra Singh, a Mangano friend, to provide food to officials at Nassau's emergency operations headquarters in the wake of superstorm Sandy, are coming under fire for not being transparent enough.
And then there's the contract to install speed cameras in school zones, which ended up being canceled, and the proposed one to place huge billboards along major Nassau thoroughfares, which ended up going nowhere.
Nassau had to reverse course earlier this year and contribute more money to keep the NICE bus service going. After the Skelos scandal, Nassau canceled its contract with AbTech; and Wednesday county officials said Nassau would not pay Dietl for his police consolidation report -- portions of which, according to the district attorney, may have been plagiarized.
The county defended the food payments to Singh and also said that if Twin Rinks ends up with an operator that Nassau finds unsuitable, the county does have the option of canceling the license on 90 days notice and running the facility itself.
And now comes Nassau's sewer proposal, which, like so many others, appears already to be considered a done deal.
It isn't. It shouldn't.
How many more expensive contract-related failures, oversells and embarrassments should Nassau's residents have to contend with?