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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

NIFA’s future unclear until new chairman appointed

Who will become the fourth chairman in the Nassau Interim Finance Authority’s 16-year history?

Will it be someone from Wall Street, with expertise in municipal finance — as were the state fiscal control board’s first two chairmen, Frank Zarb and Ronald Stack?

Or will it be someone from government, as was Jon Kaiman, the authority’s third chairman — a former North Hempstead Town supervisor who is stepping down Monday to launch a run for Congress?

That decision will rest with Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who will make the appointment.

By extension, Cuomo also will determine whether the panel will, as it did under Kaiman, continue to partner directly with County Executive Edward Mangano and other officials — which former chairmen Frank Zarb and Ronald Stack did not.

Last week, Rich Azzopardi, Cuomo’s senior deputy communications director, responded to a query about when the governor would announce the next chairman by saying: “We are currently considering candidates. No decisions have been made as of yet.”

Mangano, a Republican, had a close relationship with Cuomo, who had appointed Kaiman to replace Stack.

Mangano said he has proposed no chairman candidates to Cuomo. Still, Mangano knows what he would like to see in a successor to Kaiman: “A Frank-Zarb-like person who is interested in facts, who knows government and who knows finances.”

Under Zarb, a founder of Nasdaq, NIFA was firm with Nassau’s elected officials in addressing county finances during the administrations of Thomas Gulotta, a Republican, and Thomas Suozzi, a Democrat.

For a time, NIFA and Nassau worked together — as well as could be expected of a control board and elected officials — to try and turn the county around.

Cooperation vanished over the years. And as Nassau’s finances began heading south again before and during the Great Recession, Mangano openly bucked NIFA — at one point launching an unsuccessful court challenge to the board’s powers.

The appointment of Kaiman, who worked directly with Mangano on issues including union contracts and ending a wage freeze, changed that contentious relationship.

Kaiman, Mangano and supporters say the closer working relationship was for the better; others, including former NIFA board member George Marlin, say it was for the worse because the authority became what he called an “enabler.”

Under Kaiman, and with pressure from some board members, the authority became more aggressive in attempting to tame Nassau’s spending. If the county’s expenses didn’t match revenue at any point this year, Kaiman had threatened to curb all but mandated services to save money.

The new chairman will certainly have a say about whether NIFA will continue this course.

But there’s a wrinkle.

The statute that created NIFA includes no provision for the board to temporarily put one of its members in charge pending Cuomo’s appointment of a new chairman.

That would leave no board member in charge — and, some fear, no way for NIFA to fulfill its duties, including approving contracts.

One solution — absent a quick chairman appointment — would be for the governor to appoint a board member as the authority’s first vice chairman, who could act in the interim.

That way, NIFA goes on, even as the search for its new chairman continues.


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