NIFA rejects contracts for Albany lobbyists

From left, NIFA board members George Marlin, John From left, NIFA board members George Marlin, John Buram, Ronald Stack, and Christopher Wright meet at the Mariott in Uniondale for their board meeting. (June 5, 2013) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Nassau's financial control board again rejected $120,000 in county contracts for two Albany lobbyists, prompting the county attorney to say he will file another lawsuit against the Nassau Interim Finance Authority.

County Attorney John Ciampoli in April sued NIFA, a state board that took control of the county's finances two years ago because of a $176 million budget deficit, after it rejected previous contracts for the lobbyists, along with agreements for other county work. NIFA officials argued then that a county in financial distress should not be spending thousands of dollars to lobby Nassau's state senators and assembly members.

"I'll sue them again, because it is further proof that they're acting irresponsibly and against the best interest of the county," Ciampoli said Wednesday night after the vote against the pair of $60,000 contracts.

Wednesday, NIFA chairman Ron Stack read from a resolution saying that as Nassau "struggles to regain fiscal balance," NIFA, "must scrutinize contracts for expenditures that are not consistent with the county's current financial condition."

Stack said Ciampoli's current lawsuit against NIFA was "irrelevant" to the board's decision to reject the new contracts.

One lobbying contract is for Meara Avella Dickinson, of Albany, whose clients include Verizon and the University at Buffalo. The other is for Robert J. Bishop, who manages the Albany office of Pitta Bishop Del Giorno & Giblin LLC.

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In his pending lawsuit seeking to overturn NIFA's decision, Ciampoli contended that NIFA turned down the lobbyists' contracts because they had persuaded lawmakers to introduce legislation that would have allowed the county to borrow $192 million without NIFA's approval.

Ciampoli argued that NIFA exceeded its authority when it blocked his plans to create a novel residential tax refund payment program and when it refused his request to use old bonding authorizations from the county legislature to borrow $192 million to pay overdue property tax refunds.

Also Wednesday, NIFA approved a $125,000 contract with law firm of Leventhal, Cursio, Mullaney & Sliney, of Roslyn, to represent the county ethics board. But NIFA said it only would allow payment for services going forward -- not for work on a recent ethics decision that cleared county Public Works Commissioner Shila Shah-Gavnoudias of ethical violations when she signed off on an emergency contract for her sister's engineering firm.

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Attorney Steven Leventhal advises the ethics board, which includes Ciampoli, an appointee of Republican County Executive Edward Mangano, and three other Mangano appointees. Leventhal is the brother of former NIFA board member Paul Leventhal.

"I suppose we're not supposed to have had a decision on the Shila Shah situation?" said Ciampoli. "It shows a lack of appreciation and understanding of keeping governmental processes going forward."

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