Nassau awards contract to sister of agency chief

A company headed by the sister of Shila

A company headed by the sister of Shila Shah-Gavnoudias, Nassau's public works commissioner, received a $250,000 contract from the county after superstorm Sandy for engineering and inspection services, including oversight of tree debris removal countywide. (Dec. 26, 2009) (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

A company headed by the sister of Nassau's public works commissioner received a $250,000 contract from the county after superstorm Sandy for engineering and inspection services, including oversight of tree debris removal countywide.

Neither Public Works Commissioner Shila Shah-Gavnoudias nor her sister Carolyn Shah Moehringer, president of CSM Engineering in Uniondale, disclosed their relationship when the county legislature's Rules Committee approved the emergency contract unanimously on Nov. 20, 2012, records show.

Shah-Gavnoudias presented the CSM contract to lawmakers as one of 16 engineering contracts requested by County Executive Edward Mangano and the public works department to deal with the aftermath of Sandy. She signed the agency routing slip for the CSM contract and an approval form required by the county comptroller. Chief Deputy County Executive Rob Walker signed CSM's actual personal services agreement.


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The CSM contract, signed by Moehringer as "Carolyn Shah Moehringer" and presented to the legislature, did not include the county disclosure form usually attached to all county contracts, which requires firms to list principals, officers and board of directors. The other 15 engineering contracts approved that day included the forms, according to administration records.

Nassau Democrats say Shah-Gavnoudias should have recused herself from any dealings with her sister's contract in accord with the county code of ethics. The code requires county workers to disclose any "private interest that a reasonable person would perceive to compromise his or her ability to make impartial judgments or take discretionary actions in the best interests of the County."

Shah-Gavnoudias, who was hired by Mangano, a Republican, when he took office on Jan. 1, 2010, referred questions to public works spokesman Michael Martino. He said CSM Engineering had worked for the county for years before Mangano took office and characterized Democrats' complaints as "nothing more than mudslinging . . . at a successful minority woman who has never entered the political fray. It's disgusting."

The legislative clerk's office could not immediately find past CSM contracts. But Deputy County Executive Edward Ward said that Moehringer "had been a principal or employee or partner in firms that had been doing business with the county for the past 15 years."

He said she "is well known in the county and engineering community and was working as part of a capital works project at the Bay Park Sewage treatment plant at the time of the storm."

Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick) said the issue was disclosure, not expertise. "The relationship should be disclosed, to allow people to know of any ownership interest that could allow someone to have a leg-up on other contractors," he said.

"The commissioner of public works should not be in the position of overseeing the work product of her own sister," said Legis. Wayne Wink (D-Roslyn), a Rules Committee member who voted for the contract. Wink is running against former county Comptroller Howard Weitzman for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Comptroller George Maragos this fall.

When contacted Wednesday, Moehringer said her company is a state-certified minority- and woman-owned business. "I've been in this business a very long time. I pray I can continue my business because it's what I know," she said in a brief conversation.

At the Nov. 20 Rules Committee meeting, all 16 engineering contracts, totaling $7.15 million, were approved in one vote by the committee without a contract-by-contract explanation of each, according to the transcript of the meeting.

Shah-Gavnoudias told the committee the contracts were "for the assessments and inspection of all of our facilities, infrastructure, including roads, bridges, traffic, parks, and also to have inspectors monitor our debris management plan." She said the costs were reimbursable by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

According to the CSM website it was founded in 1999 and is a New York State-certified Minority-Owned Business Enterprise (MBE), Women-Owned Business Enterprise (WBE), and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE). The staff "consists of electrical, mechanical, civil engineers, and certified construction inspectors, located throughout Long Island and the NYC Metropolitan Area."

The contract calls for the firm to provide emergency engineering and inspection services for oversight of the county's debris management plan in relation to tree removal, stump grinding, inspection services of the county's emergency sheltering program and assessment of debris situations that may pose problems in future storms.to here

CSM, which contributed $5,375 to Mangano's campaign in the past two years as well as $600 to Walker's Hicksville Republican club, was one of 13 Sandy contractors that Comptroller George Maragos recently contacted for additional payroll and expense data. The comptroller's office said Wednesday that CSM has been paid about $170,000 of the $250,000 set for Sandy work. The comptroller said he expects to complete his review of contractor payments in about a month.

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