TODAY'S PAPER
62° Good Evening
62° Good Evening
Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Expanding public access to disclosure forms is the way to go

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, at the Bellport

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, at the Bellport Village Marina in Bellport on June. 6. Credit: James Carbone

To see or not to see.

Both Nassau and Suffolk are considering the question of whether financial disclosure forms filed by county officials should be more made easily available to the public.

Earlier this year, Laura Curran, Nassau's county executive, touted transparency in announcing that the forms — which disclose sources of income, debt, investments and other information — would be digitized in the county for the first time ever.

The forms are no small matter.

During the federal corruption trial of former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano earlier this year, prosecutors used disclosures filed by Mangano with the county ethics board to bolster their contention that Mangano had received bribes from restaurateur Harendra Singh.

While Mangano did disclose a job his wife, Linda, had with Singh, he did not — as was required under the county ethics code — disclose expensive gifts he received from Singh, including chairs, a watch and vacations.

The forms Mangano filed were on paper.

And those paper forms, Curran pointed out during the March news conference, usually ended up being dumped in a box and filed "in a basement somewhere."

With that, there was no way to easily ferret out potential issues, such as conflicts of interest or financial stakes in companies receiving county contracts.

The online forms, coupled with separate databases for contracts and contractors, were supposed to remedy that by making it easier to run checks.

During that news conference, Newsday reporters asked Curran whether the online financial disclosure information would be open to public searches.  (Listen to SoundCloud to hear the spirited exchange.)

New York State, for example, allows public searches of forms for elected officials. So does the Town of Hempstead.

Last week, Curran was queried a second time about the possibility of allowing public searches.

The answer — both times — was that the administration intended to review the process.

In short, that meant no.

To be fair, it's up to Nassau's ethics board to make a final determination on whether the public can log on to examine disclosure forms.

But Curran appoints members to that board and, as such, can push for access.

And a push for change might be made easier by another factor which arose last week: The county's unanticipated need to seek a new counsel for its ethics board.

That came after the county's inspector general found that Roslyn attorney Steven Leventhal, the board's counsel for more than a decade under both Republican and Democratic county executives, had not disclosed a judge's sanction for “frivolous, obstructionist behavior” in a 2017 court case.

Nassau isn't the only county grappling over disclosures.

Last week, a former bureau chief for the Suffolk County district attorney's office won an appellate court battle to keep his financial disclosure forms private.

In a twist, the former chief, John Scott Prudenti, prevailed against a 2016 resolution passed by the county legislature — and backed by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone — to circumvent Suffolk's ethics board, and make Prudenti's forms public after a Newsday report about the former prosecutor renting his boat to local defense Attorneys. 

Still, in Suffolk — just as in Nassau — easy public access to disclosure forms remains an issue.

Like Nassau, Suffolk has no online database that is open to the public.

And while the public, in both counties, can request redacted versions of disclosure forms from the county ethics boards, the process in Suffolk has become lengthy and convoluted over the years.

Last week, DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague), presiding officer of Suffolk's legislature, said he would be open to proposing legislation that would expand public access to disclosure statements.

That's the play — for both counties.

Comments

We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

Latest Long Island News