Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano - through his county attorney, John Ciampoli - is making a blatant end run around the county charter.

No, it's worse than that.

The administration is stomping on the hoard of angry county voters who, via referendum in 2000, demanded more transparency and accountability on how the county spends their tax money.

The problem?

Ciampoli doesn't want the county legislature's rules committee looking at routine personal service contracts for outside legal counsel - in advance - anymore. It's a change that would free him to award personal contracts over $25,000 now, and tell the Republican-majority legislature later.

The administration contends that the change is minor. It isn't. Not when it essentially frees a bureaucrat's hand to award big contracts.

The new policy, the administration's tortured legal reasoning aside, flies fast in the face of transparency and accountability - at a time when government-wary, tax-weary voters want more.

Mangano, as a county legislator, supported putting the referendum on the ballot in 2000. So did Peter Schmitt, who is now the legislature's presiding officer. "It's very important to have checks and balances," Schmitt said at the time. And oh, what a time it was.

The nascent legislature, which replaced a board of supervisors in 1996, was beginning to grow and rightly assert its independence in a county where the executive and legislative branches too often act as one.

The body's first presiding officer, Bruce Blakeman, who is now running for U.S. Senate, negotiated an agreement with then-County Executive Thomas Gulotta to let a committee of lawmakers review contracts over $25,000.

Even back then, such contracts accounted for big money in the county's budget - some $60 million in discretionary spending, a substantial portion of which went for outside legal counsel.

But in the wake of a scandal (and the fact that Gulotta reneged on the agreement for a few months after Democrats took control of the legislature in 2000), lawmakers and residents demanded more.

They wanted legislative oversight on such contracts written into law. And had reason to, after a series of investigative legislative hearings - the body's first - unearthed the Benefit Plan Administration debacle.

In 1997 - as legislators would later learn - BPA took over management of the county's health insurance plan by bribing then Deputy County Executive Robert McDonald. The company promised millions of dollars in savings if Nassau switched to BPA from a state-run plan.

Instead, the county lost a whopping $70 million in 18 months before stunned and angry officials suspended the contract. Later, 11 defendants, including McDonald, would plead guilty or be convicted in connection with the scandal.

Now, fast-forward - to the Mangano administration's argument that a 40-something-year-old paragraph in the county charter trumps the voters' will.

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