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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Nassau should re-examine contract process

New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and

New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son Adam leave Southern District Federal Court in Manhattan after his initial hearing on corruption charges on Monday, May 4, 2015. Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

Given the federal charges against Sen. Dean Skelos and his son, Adam, it was incredible that a Nassau legislative committee rammed through even more contracts Monday with little public discussion.

Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves, during a series of angry exchanges with Democrats early on during the rules committee meeting, said she didn't want to bring Nassau's government to a halt while lawmakers hash out details of dueling disclosure proposals.

She said she saw no need for a moratorium on contracts until that was done. But maybe lawmakers should slow down, prioritize contracts and approve only those necessary until that process is complete.

Because something seems to be off with Nassau's contracting process -- as a comparison with Suffolk's handling of an inquiry from AbTech Industries, one of the companies involved in the federal investigation, shows.

According to the federal complaint, Dean Skelos advised AbTech to submit contract proposals to Suffolk and Nassau. Suffolk officials, a spokesman for County Executive Steve Bellone said Tuesday, met with AbTech officials in 2013.

During that meeting, Suffolk explained the county's procurement process and invited AbTech, like any other prospective contract, to make a bid. Suffolk never got a bid, said Justin Meyers, Bellone's spokesman.

In Nassau, AbTech met with officials from the public works department. And at one point in November 2012, according to the complaint, the firm submitted an "unsolicited conceptual proposal."

Five days later, the company received word from Adam Skelos that Nassau was going to issue a "request for proposals" related to a storm water project.

The request was not issued by Nassau until February 2013, And on April 3, according to the complaint, the younger Skelos personally delivered AbTech's proposal to Nassau.

But before the county could act, according to the complaint, the younger Skelos contacted the county attorney in July for "documentation . . . to show its investors that Nassau County had already chosen it for the project."

Two days later, the contract was approved by the legislature's rules committee. During the summer, according to the complaint, staff for the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the state panel overseeing county finances, was asked for an advisory opinion on whether NIFA was likely to approve the contract. That approval didn't come until October 2013, according to the complaint.

Is this how contracting works in Nassau? Was the request for proposals for a storm water project written in a way that could have favored AbTech's bid? Did the path involving any of the contracts passed along by lawmakers Monday resemble the path taken by the AbTech contract?

Neither Nassau, AbTech nor any Nassau official has been charged with wrongdoing in connection with the Skelos case.

But that does not mitigate the need for a thorough re-examination of Nassau's contracting process, which already is coming under scrutiny from Nassau's district attorney's office -- spurred by the U.S. attorney's ongoing probe of corruption in Albany.

There was a time when Nassau lawmakers were quick to ask questions. The best example came in the 1990s, when lawmakers ferreted out a scandal over a self-insurance plan that lost, rather than saved, taxpayer money.

In that case, federal prosecutors were able to build on Nassau's work -- instead of the other way around.

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