Despite widespread speculation on political websites, Nassau County has not paid an Albany lobbying firm since 2011 after the county’s financial control board rejected the firm’s 2012 and 2013 contracts, officials said this week.
Amid reports that Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and his son, Adam, are under federal investigation in relation to a $12 million contract that Nassau awarded to Arizona-based AbTech Industries in 2013, there has been lots of speculation about any role played by Albany lobbyist Brian Meara.
Meara’s firm, Meara Avella Dickinson, represents a subsidiary of AbTech. Meara, through a spokesman, denied to the Albany Times Union any involvement in the Skelos probe.
Nassau approved the ABTech contract in mid-July 2013 to pay for storm water improvements after superstorm Sandy damaged the county’s sewer system in late 2012. Adam Skelos was a consultant for ABTech at the time.
County comptroller records show that Nassau paid Meara Avella Dickinson $72,000 for lobbying work from September 2010 through June 2011.
But the firm’s subsequent 2012 contract for $60,000 was rejected by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority in August 2012. At the same time, NIFA rejected another $60,000 contract for lobbyist Robert Bishop. NIFA members complained that work had been completed on both contracts before they were presented to the board.
In June 2013, NIFA rejected new 2013 contracts for both Meara and Bishop, saying the financially strained county should not be paying lobbyists to influence Nassau’s own state legislators.
Meara’s firm was not paid for any work for the 2012 or 2013 contracts and money set aside to pay for them was taken away, said Jostyn Hernandez, a spokesman for Comptroller George Maragos. The comptroller could find no other contracts for the firm or for Meara, he said.
“The County has no record of payments ever being made to Meara Avella Dickinson through contract, claim or settlement,” County Attorney Carnell Foskey said when asked whether Meara had been paid for the rejected contracts.
Controversy did erupt over the rejected 2012 lobbying contract for Robert Bishop, who filed a $60,000 claim against the county.
NIFA members expressed anger in December 2013 when they learned that then-County Attorney John Ciampoli had approved payment of Bishop’s fee. Ciampoli maintained the county attorney had the authority to settle and pay all legal settlements under $100,000. An aide said County Executive Edward Mangano did not know beforehand that Ciampoli had approved payment.
Mangano removed Ciampoli as county attorney in early December 2013, and Ciampoli subsequently went to work for Skelos in the State Senate, where Ciampoli had previously been employed.
Unlike Bishop, Meara did not file a similar claim for payment, officials said.
Meara has worked as a lobbyist for Nassau off and on since at least late 1999. He continues to have a contract with Nassau’s Off-Track Betting Corp.
NIFA in May 2014 approved a new contract with Bishop, but not for Meara's firm.