Joseph Mondello, Nassau’s Republican Party chairman, last week said he’s all for a proposal that would lower significantly — to $1,000 from $25,000 — the floor for contracts requiring legislative approval.
But the support’s not entirely for transparency’s sake at a time when Nassau’s being scrutinized by federal investigators and the county district attorney’s office on how it handles contracts.
In an interview with Newsday’s Celeste Hadrick, Mondello also acknowledged that the party, which controls Nassau’s executive and legislative branches, has been “taking a beating with these contracts.”
And may the pressure on the GOP — from the public and from the ongoing investigations — stem the flow of no-bid contracts that often go to the politically connected.
In fact, let the pressure be felt across Long Island, where municipalities and government agencies stubbornly hold on to policies that continue to erode the public’s trust.
North Hempstead, for example, recently began requiring that its town political leaders file financial disclosure forms. Sounds good — until you realize they’re extending enforcement of a law that’s been on the books for a quarter of a century.
There’ve been four different supervisors in the Democratic stronghold over that time. But having political leaders following the law appeared not to matter until Gerard Terry, the town’s former Democratic leader, managed to accumulate $1.4 million in state and federal tax debt — while holding down six public jobs.
Had the town followed its own disclosure law, officials might have known about Terry’s issues before they became public. And the results of disclosure may have pushed Terry to resolve the issues years ago.
Consider this: How many other party officials went with similar issues, undisclosed, during that time? Potential conflicts of interest, other unpaid taxes? North Hempstead has accumulated 25 years of not knowing, and, worse, not even trying to find out.
But at least North Hempstead has a law.
The towns of Oyster Bay and Hempstead do not require political party leaders to file financial disclosure forms. Neither do nine of Suffolk’s 10 towns, with Smithtown the only exception.
Which leaves plentiful opportunity for malfeasance.
Transparency is important. Taxpayers deserve to know who is getting business from whom. And they deserve explanations about why some companies — and this is true in municipalities across the region — consistently get public work that others are capable of handling.
But many municipalities are reluctant to change, as illustrated by last week’s Newsday report about the Nassau and Suffolk boards of election.
While services in both fiscally stressed counties have been taking a beating because of declining workforces, the boards of elections — which are staffed by patronage employees — are thriving.
Staffing in Nassau is up 25 percent since 2011, with 32 new full-time positions, while staffing in Suffolk remained steady over the same period of time.
Other similar-size counties have smaller, nonpartisan operations. But board officials in both counties defended their operations, which under state law are required to employ equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats.
That means that for every Republican office worker, there needs to be a Democrat doing the same job — an expensive system, to say the least.
Among the most vociferous defenders of continuing the system were Mondello and Jay Jacobs, head of Nassau’s Democratic Party. They say the one-for-one arrangement provides checks and balances in disputes over petitions and other election issues.
But the state law also has allowed the boards to become de facto taxpayer-supported extensions of political parties.
There are ways to create firewalls to limit the influence of politics on public policy, and to reduce the potential for local government corruption.
So far, that’s not happening enough on Long Island.
Which leaves plentiful fodder for ongoing federal investigations.