Nassau legislators assert some independence
Hell froze over in Nassau’s legislature Monday, with lawmakers, at times working across party lines, operating, well, like an independent branch of government should.
The Rules Committee, in a unanimous and unexpected move, derailed a proposed contract of as much as $887,568 that would allow County Executive Edward Mangano to hire a vendor to advise the administration on the feasibility of leasing its sewer and stormwater system to an investor in a billion-dollar deal.
Here’s how things usually work: Republican majority members vote yes on GOP-backed measures, while minority Democrats, after raising vociferous objections, vote no.
This time around, the long-running Punch and Judy show fell to the wayside after a Republican, Legis. Howard Kopel of Lawrence began asking questions about how a deal with an investor would work.
He began with the first of two admissions that would be considered startling for any politician: “Frankly, I don’t get it,” Kopel said of Mangano’s proposal to hire a vendor to determine the feasibility of leasing Nassau’s three sewage treatment plants, 53 pumping stations and 3,000 miles of sewer to a private investor. The investor would run the system for decades and collect user fees to repay its estimated investment of up to $1 billion.
Later, in acknowledging his yes vote on similar proposals in the past, he raised eyebrows again. “I voted for this the first time around,” he said, “but I think that was a mistake.”
Kopel, along with Legis. Siela Bynoe, a Democrat from Westbury, went on to dissect the contract. They pried out details such as the fact that once the measure was passed by the legislature, lawmakers would be out of the picture — just as they were after a contract to redevelop Nassau Coliseum passed from one developer to another with no legislative review.
The seven-member Rules Committee, in a unanimous vote, tabled the contract on Monday until lawmakers could get more information. Later — again working across party lines — they tabled a second contract after Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) noticed that Adam Barsky was listed as a principal in the IT firm.
Was it the same Barsky who heads the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the state panel overseeing count finances? Yes, lawmakers were told, but he’s no longer associated with the vendor. Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) joined Abrahams in pushing for the matter to be tabled until lawmakers got proof.
But for all the hits, there was one miss.
And that came after Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Elmont) asked Mangano administration lawyer Elizabeth Loconsolo — who was fielding questions about a contract for a health care monitor for Nassau’s jail — whether she was married to Sheriff Michael Sposato, who runs the jail.
“That’s out of order,” Gonsalves said.
But the question wasn’t.
Loconsolo — who worked at the jail for many years before she and Sposato wed — should have disclosed the relationship before testifying.
In a county where the contracting process has remained under fire for months, the more transparency — through aggressive legislative oversight, and disclosure — the better.