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Nassau GOP lawmaker breaks silence, supports sewer deal

Nassau Legis. Michael Venditto (R-Massapequa), who is runnning for a vacant State Senate seat, said on Thursday he supports Republican County Executive Edward Mangano’s plan to have a private company manage Nassau’s sewer system for 20 years, but still wants to know what his constituents think of the deal before making any decisons.

“I think it's going to provide the necessary repairs and save taxpayers of Nassau County money in the years ahead,” Venditto said in an interview. “It sounds very promising...but I want to hear from the residents and get their input because that always factors into my thinking, my voting and the way I do the job.”

Questions about Venditto’s position arose over the past few weeks as he remained silent on Mangano’s proposal to pay $1.1 billion over 20 years to United Water Long Island Inc. At the same time, his Senate opponent, Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick), seldom stopped talking about the deal, leading a fellow lawmaker on Monday to block him from asking too many questions.

Mangano and the Legislature’s Office of Budget Review say the contract, expected to be approved by the Rules Committee on Friday, will save tens of millions of dollars, primarily from lower labor costs.

The county charter says the legislature shall decide the use of public works facilities. But County Attorney Carnell Foskey, with the consent of Chris Ostuni, counsel to Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow), contends the contract is a personal-services agreement. Such agreements only go to the seven-member Rules Committee. Neither Venditto nor Denenberg are on Rules.

If the deal were treated differently, it would have had to be run through other legislative committees and eventually the full legislature.

Although not a member of Rules, Venditto noted he will be required to vote on $20 million in borrowing that is part of the plan.

Gonsalves called a full legislative hearing Monday on the proposal. But Venditto asked no questions and left more than two hours before the hearing ended at 8 p.m., prompting speculation that he might have a conflict of interest.

Venditto on Thursday denied any conflict, saying he left to fulfill a community commitment. “I want to underscore that I stayed for the entire presentaton made by the county executive and all who had the floor that day,” Venditto said. “I believe that going forward I now have all the facts and circumstances I need to make an informed decision down the line. I did depart the meeting during the question-and-answer segment because I had a prior commitment to a civic organization that night. I was asked to represent County Executive Mangano for installation of officers at the Bellmore Lions Club and I always keep my commitments to the residents of Nassau County.”

If there were a conflict, he added, “I would not have stayed for any segment of the presentation. I stayed for the entire presentation.”

When Gonsalves press secretary Cristina Brennan was asked earlier why Venditto left, she quipped, “probably for the same reason Denenberg left when he was done.”

Both Denenberg and Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) left the hearing early. Abrahams, who made an opening statement, said he received word that his son had a 104-degree fever. “My family responsibilities take precedence and I left, Abrahams said.

Denenberg said he left at about 7 p.m. because Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury) wouldn’t let him ask more questions after he had grilled the administration for about a half-hour.

Jacobs explained: “I said to him, ‘Dave, you can’t go on and on and on. You’ve got to allow other people to have a say.'”

She added: “I thought it important that all of our legislators have an opportunity to speak. At least Denenberg asked his questions.”

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