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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Madeline Singas presses Nassau lawmakers on contracts

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas has called

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas has called for reform of the county's contracting system. Credit: Howard Schnapp

It looks like Madeline Singas, Nassau’s district attorney, isn’t letting up the pressure for significant reform of the county’s contracting system.

And she shouldn’t.

As we close in on the anniversary of the arrests of former state Sen. Dean Skelos and his son, Adam, on federal corruption charges, including attempting to influence the awarding of a Nassau contract, Republican County Executive Edward Mangano and the legislature’s GOP majority may want to believe that a harder push for overhaul of the contracting system is unnecessary.

After all, Mangano signed an executive order so that vendors have to disclose lobbying activities and political contributions they make to elected officials. And on Monday, the county legislature, at Mangano’s urging, is slated to pass a law lowering the floor for legislative approval of personal service contracts, to $1,000 from the current $25,000.

Mangano also is vetting candidates for a procurement compliance director who would create a public contract database and check that rules are followed with each agreement.

Still, it all pretty much amounts to window dressing unless independent monitoring is put into place — a move that, presumably, is something Singas intends to call to the attention of lawmakers.

And, by extension, to the residents of Nassau.

A search of Newsday files, and a check with a few longtime government observers, show that Singas’ request to “formally address” lawmakers Monday about county contracts is a rare, possibly unprecedented, move.

And it’s one that, judging from the response Singas received Friday from Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow), the legislature’s presiding officer, could well fall on deaf ears.

In the reply, Gonsalves made clear that Singas always is welcome at the legislature. The district attorney is now scheduled to address the body at 1 p.m. Monday.

In the letter, Gonsalves went on to detail Mangano’s and Republican lawmakers’ responses to the contracting scandal, using language remarkably similar to Mangano’s when he discussed his contracting reforms during his State of the County address this week.

In the year since Skelos and his son were arrested, the county legislature hasn’t held a single hearing on the contracting issues chronicled by Newsday before, during and after the trial of Skelos and his son, Adam, who are appealing their convictions. They are scheduled to be sentenced April 13.

Last year, Newsday reported that since 2011, Nassau has issued hundreds of no-bid contracts at amounts just below the current threshold requiring lawmaker approval.

Many of those went to political donors, records showed.

In one case, a vendor formed a company just days before the county issued a request for bids for the contract. The vendor, VIP Splash, went on to win. The firm made a contribution to the political club run by Mangano’s chief deputy, Rob Walker, the same day Walker signed the contract.

Later, Walker would admit during testimony in the Skelos case that he was under federal investigation for county contracts that went to political contributors.

Singas, in fact, was the first county official to delve into the contracting issue with a 36-page report that called Nassau’s contracting system “a recipe for corruption.” Among her recommendations was one echoed later by an expert panel that Mangano had asked to review the contracting process: creation of an independent office to keep a tab on contracts, with sufficient powers to investigate. Singas specifically recommended that Nassau create an inspector general’s office, a move supported by fellow Democrats in the legislature.

So, let’s hear what Singas has to say Monday.

And whether lawmakers listen.

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