NIFA meeting raises questions

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A meeting of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority

A meeting of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority in Uniondale. (Oct. 9, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has

A scheduled private weekend meeting among Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, the president of the county's largest police union and three members of a state fiscal control board went public in a very big way.

Two board members -- Chris Wright, who refused an invitation, and George Marlin, who showed up uninvited and stayed long enough to tick off reasons why he thought the gathering was improper -- released separate public statements lambasting the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority's participation.

Among their concerns:

The meeting could be construed as a bargaining session on a proposal that NIFA would later have to approve.

Also, NIFA's meeting with the Police Benevolent Association -- which has sued the authority, Nassau and Mangano, who could benefit from a PBA endorsement -- so close to Election Day could be viewed as participation in a campaign-season stunt.

Marlin and Wright, it bears noting, are in the minority on a newly reconfigured NIFA, whose majority, including Jon Kaiman, NIFA's new chairman, were appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Yesterday, Jerry Laricchiuta, head of the Civil Service Employees Association, said he also has had private discussions with Kaiman.

"What I am hearing is that NIFA wants to deal with at least the two biggest unions at the same time," Laricchiuta said.

Laricchiuta said he believed that NIFA in future meetings would help his union define what the control board would find acceptable or unacceptable in any proposed contract -- before it went to Mangano or county lawmakers.

In interviews on Monday, Mangano and Kaiman said the Saturday meeting was not a bargaining session.

PBA president James Carver agreed. To his credit he added, "You know, any gathering where you have all the parties in a room is a kind of negotiation."

At issue in Saturday's dust-up between Kaiman and the two NIFA board members is a proposal backed by Mangano and Carver that would bring almost three years of wage freezes for PBA members to an end.

"My guys need their raises, but we've been unable to get a deal," Carver said. Carver's timeline for approval of the pact is aggressive: He wants the proposal to get through Mangano and the legislature fast enough to allow changes to the 2014 budget that would include the deal's terms.

Lawmakers must approve a budget by Oct. 31 -- before Election Day, when Mangano and most county lawmakers are seeking re-election.

But the deal can go nowhere without NIFA's formal approval.

Carver said he anticipated that NIFA would get the contract after Election Day. Laricchiuta said he wants a deal done soon too. "We've already been waiting too long to get this done," Laricchiuta said.

On Saturday, Kaiman and two NIFA staff members sat in a county conference room with Carver and Mangano. Two of the seven other NIFA board members, John R. Buran and Paul D. Annunziato, participated via telephone.

Mangano said that the police union presented NIFA with specific changes to the current police contract that he and the PBA said would save Nassau money. There was no discussion, however, of the PBA's pending lawsuit to overturn the wage freeze, or of restoring lost frozen wages to union members, the parties said.

Kaiman characterized it as an information-gathering exercise. "The goal was to have our staff present so they can do their own analysis with the information we received, and we can evaluate it in our own time and in our own way," he said.

NIFA staff and board members have met with union and administration officials before. But the entire board -- rather than a few members -- were notified in advance of such meetings.

There was no proposed contract already under NIFA staff review. And it was not so close to Election Day.

Kaiman said repeatedly that his job is to keep NIFA independent so it can ensure that Nassau's budget numbers work.

Time will tell.

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