Local Democratic lawmakers say the seven people that Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano has nominated for the county jail's Board of Visitors aren't the right fit for an oversight panel that is supposed to address inmate complaints.
But their Republican counterparts are taking a wait-and-see approach, saying they are reviewing candidates as the nominees may come before the county legislature this month.
"We would like to have seen appointments that were more representative of the people of Nassau County," said Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport). "Instead the county executive has chosen to mask the problems with appointments that will not really present the truth about what goes on in that correctional center."
Resolving a lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union, State Supreme Court Justice James P. McCormack ruled the Nassau charter is clear in requiring the county executive to appoint seven people to a board to oversee the jail, hear inmate complaints and make recommendations to the sheriff.
The Board of Visitors has been mandated by the county charter since 1990 but never assembled. Mangano proposed seven people to the board shortly after McCormack's decision. Last summer, he named only four people, saying that a smaller group satisfied the charter's requirement, an argument that McCormack rejected.
Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin, responding to the criticism from Democrats, said: "For 10 years the Democrats failed to appoint a single person to the advisory board. It's shameful that they now try to hide from their record of failure by throwing mud at upstanding citizens who have volunteered their time for the good of the county."
The civil liberties group had sued the county in March of last year, after writing to Mangano to contend that a number of tragic events at the jail -- including five suicides over a two-year period -- might have been avoided with more rigorous oversight.
"I'm concerned," said Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury), referring to the apparent lack of health care professionals among the candidates for the all-volunteer board. "Because the crux of the issue in my estimation came out of the suicides which had been at the jail there is perhaps a need for either doctors or mental health experts on the board."
Legis. Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick) had submitted several names to Mangano in December 2011 and January 2012, but none were selected.
"Considering that for a year and a half the county executive didn't appoint a full board, subjected the taxpayers to a lawsuit, which the county lost at taxpayers' expense, you would have thought he took all this time to really consider a number of names," Denenberg said.
But Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow), said, "We are looking through each of the nominees and making sure they fit the criteria to serve on this board."
Gonsalves served on the Nassau County Jail Advisory Committee, a civic group formed in the early 1990s to address quality-of-life issues raised by the jail's presence in a residential community.
At least three of Mangano's appointments, Leon Campo of East Meadow, Richard Bivone of East Meadow and Helen Meittinis of Westbury have served on the jail advisory group. Gonsalves said the group works as a "watchdog," touring the jail and pointing out concerns to the sheriff during regular meetings.
Gonsalves said the group's members are good candidates for the Board of Visitors because they are familiar with the facility and correctional issues.
But Jason Starr, director of the Nassau chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the jail advisory group has not been aggressively advocating for better inmate conditions.
"I don't think service on that board qualifies someone for service on the visitors board because they have not been taking up any of those issues that the charter mandates," Starr said. "It's not a robust oversight body as contemplated by the charter."
Leon Campo of East Meadow, on the jail advisory committee for several years, said the mandate of the Board of Visitors requires members to understand inmates' concerns while the advisory group is focused on local community issues.
The former superintendent of East Meadow schools said: "This is going to be more focused on an inmate perspective."