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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Nassau’s investigations chief: How independent can she be?

It’s been eight months since a panel brought on to scrutinize Nassau’s procurement system recommended hiring an independent contract monitor. Since then, County Executive Edward Mangano and the legislature’s Republican majority have insisted that a position already in Nassau’s charter, the commissioner of investigations, could handle those duties.

But how independent can the commissioner, Donna Myrill, be when she reports to an attorney who advises Mangano, or has to rely on investigators from the county attorney’s office to handle her cases??

How independent can the commissioner — to be clear, the issue here is with the post, not Myrill, a former Queens prosecutor, herself — be when she, according to Mangano, has only one dedicated assistant?

Or, as of now, no budget?

How independent can the post be, when she relies on Mangano’s spokesman to handle inquiries from a reporter?

This is not the kind of independence the panel headed by Frank Zarb, the first chairman of the financial control board overseeing Nassau’s finances, recommended.

And it’s not the jolt of public confidence the administration needs these days, given that State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and — in a stunning move Wednesday — Nassau Comptroller George Maragos have taken it upon themselves to do the county’s job of enforcing the terms of a contract with Armor Correctional Health Service, which handles medical care at the county jail.

And as for a petition drive by legislative Democrats to put the question of creating an independent inspector generals’ office on the November ballot?

That rests in the hands of County Attorney Carnell Foskey, who reports to Mangano, a fellow Republican.

Foskey has testified before lawmakers that reforms enacted by Mangano and the county legislature have made Nassau’s contracting process more transparent.

And Foskey initially was tasked with adding the commissioner of investigations’ duties to to his own — until Mangano decided to keep the jobs separate.

On Tuesday, a call to Myrill’s office was returned by Brian Nevin, Mangano’s spokesman, after Myrill said she was too busy to talk, or to make an appointment.

Mangano, in an interview Wednesday, said Myrill had brought on an assistant, was making use of investigators in the county attorney’s office, and was handling “mostly employee-related concerns.”

He said Myrill has access to any needed county resources, and that she will have her own budget and staff in Mangano’s proposed 2017 budget in September.

The Zarb panel recommended an independent auditor with the sole function of scrutinizing Nassau’s contracting process.

That made sense given a series of Newsday reports about county professional service agreements often not going to the lowest bidder; contracts that, until a recent change, awarded to politically connected vendors for amounts just below the $25,000 threshold for legislative approval, and large contracts approved automatically without any legislative vote.

The commissioner of investigations is charged with the auditing role — along with other duties outlined in the charter. Those duties, according to a description of the job on the county’s website, include “rooting out instances of fraud, waste and abuse” and “promoting and maintaining the integrity of county government.”

Which would voters prefer — the current commissioner or a new inspector general?

We likely won’t know come November.

Nassau lawmakers who are awaiting Foskey’s decision on the ballot referendum did not bring up the matter during Monday’s committee meetings.

And there’s only one full meeting of the legislature scheduled, for Monday, until lawmakers take a summer break. Absent emergency action, lawmakers return in September — a few days after the deadline to put the measure on the ballot.

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