Nassau County's contracting process is rife with problems. There is no easy way for residents or even elected officials to review contracts. There is no readily available database of winning bids and requests for proposals. Also not easily accessible to the public is a history of contractors who have previously worked for the county.
Because of a lack of transparency, county contracting is vulnerable to abuse. Newsday reported that since 2011, there were almost $10 million in contracts awarded between $24,000 and $24,999 -- just under the $25,000 limit needed for legislative approval.
County Executive Edward Mangano reached out to former Nassau Interim Finance Authority chairman Frank Zarb, Hofstra president Stuart Rabinowitz and former head of National Grid Robert Catell to help the county come up with best practices.CartoonDavies' latest cartoon: Nassau's got mailCommentSubmit your letterReader essaysGet published in Newsday
I suggest the following:
Create a searchable contract database on the county's website. The database should be searchable by vendor name, dollar range and a list of political donations by winning bidders. This will advance transparency, and prevent abuse.
The county should list any family members related to elected officials who are bidding. If this process were in place, the $12 million AbTech contract and the possible abuses by Adam Skelos might have been avoided.
Every bid for a contract or requests for proposals should be part of an accessible spreadsheet so everyone can see the range of bids. Transparency would mitigate the possibility of winning bids by minute amounts because of "inside information."
An explanation of why awarded requests for proposals don't go to the lowest bidder is important. It shouldn't be acceptable for requests to be crafted to a certain connected vendor.
If any bid or requests for proposals come back with only one response, the county should go out to bid a second time. Any homeowner would get two bids to remodel their kitchen (unless you are Donald Trump). Tax dollars should be treated in the same fashion.
Get rid of the ability to award contracts under $25,000 without a legislative vote. Any abuses of the current system will disappear.
I have spoken to many contractors who conduct business in Nassau and they are tired of the pay-to-play mentality that slows their ability to get work done quickly and efficiently.
These suggestions represent my personal views of the bidding and request-for-proposal process in Nassau County. I've formulated these opinions over two years, speaking to thousands of residents as a former Democratic candidate for county executive. Residents are numb to the corruption and are cynical -- as evidenced by the 3 percent turnout in the recent Democratic primary for Nassau district attorney.
There is only one way to expeditiously win back the public's trust in county government: Transparency. Incorporating these suggestions would be a good start.
Adam Haber is a director of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority.