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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Another standoff in Nassau

Nassau County Attorney Carnell Foskey in Mineola on

Nassau County Attorney Carnell Foskey in Mineola on Jan. 29, 2014. Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

There’s (another) standoff brewing between Nassau and the state authority charged with overseeing the county’s busted-up finances.

In an unusual step, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority has summoned Carnell Foskey, the county attorney, to a private meeting next week to explain why the county has not complied with an order to produce summaries of contracts with Nassau’s five major unions.

Specifically, NIFA wants to see a “single comprehensive contract document” for each union to satisfy an order the authority issued in November.

The county was supposed to turn over documentation by Jan. 31. NIFA extended the deadline multiple times — but has yet to get Nassau to comply.

A county official said Monday that Nassau used the time to have a committee of county and union representatives go through each contract, including accompanying side letters, arbitration awards or other revisions.

Nassau then signed off on thousands of pages of contract-related documents and sent them over to NIFA.

But that’s not what NIFA wants, nor what the authority ordered.

“The entire board is united on this and we will not sign off on any contract until this project is complete,” Adam Barsky, NIFA’s chairman, said in an interview on Monday.

Contracts for all five of Nassau’s major unions expire this year. Although NIFA has signed off on past agreements, this time around the authority is insisting on a baseline for negotiations — especially at a time when Nassau continues to have budget problems.

To build the baseline, NIFA wants the county and each union to sign off on the “single comprehensive contract document” that would simplify and summarize terms now scattered across multiple documents.

Such summaries — which would easily allow NIFA to determine whether recommended changes hurt or help county finances — are not uncommon in labor negotiations, although each side usually prepares its own summary, rather than agreeing to work off a single document.

“The county has turned over every contract, with attachments, going back 30 years,” said Deputy County Executive Ed Ward. “They are cumbersome and they are long and NIFA doesn’t like that, but we feel we have complied.”

Why the document dump, rather than a set of summaries?

“NIFA has taught us that it is better for us to send them everything and let them do their own review,” Ward said.

NIFA, however, views Nassau’s failure to produce summaries as unacceptable.

“Our lawyers tell us they’ve never seen anything like this before,” Barsky said.

As a result, the authority is showing its disapproval in new ways.

For one, NIFA ordered Foskey to “personally appear” at its July 25 meeting.

NIFA staff let it be known that if Foskey does not appear, NIFA will seek a court order to have him sanctioned — a moot point, since Foskey will attend the meeting, according to Ward.

“We will listen to the county attorney and see what is reasonable and what is not,” Barsky said. “And if there is a big gap, if we are dissatisfied, then we will seek legal action and have him compelled to act.”

Under state law, any county officer who refuses a valid NIFA order can be charged with a misdemeanor and be subject to administrative discipline, including suspension from duty without pay or removal from office.

Are Nassau and NIFA willing to go that far?

Let’s see who blinks.

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