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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

NIFA’s surprise order

Adam Barsky, chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance

Adam Barsky, chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, speaks during a NIFA meeting at the Long Island Marriott in Uniondale Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. Nassau's financial control board rejected Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano's budget during the meeting. Credit: Barry Sloan

Nassau’s financial control board on Tuesday twisted the screws even tighter on county officials by passing a surprise order.

It wasn’t the Nassau Interim Finance Authority’s rejection of Nassau’s budget — that move was pretty much preordained given that the spending plan is not balanced.

Instead, NIFA delivered an unexpected blow by ordering that county officials turn over copies of contracts with every labor union and deliver them in an easily digestible form.

Should the county not comply, NIFA will not approve any new pacts with public employee unions — which should be a powerful incentive since most labor contracts expire at the end of 2017.

To make sure that Nassau knows NIFA means business, Adam Barsky, NIFA’s head, said the authority is willing to go as far as suggest that County Attorney Carnell Foskey could be charged should the control board’s order go unheeded.

Foskey could “be subject to a misdemeanor charge for violating the act” that created NIFA, Barsky said in an interview Wednesday. Conviction on the criminal charge could carry up to a year in jail.

The order is the culmination of a yearslong effort by NIFA to get an accounting of each labor agreement that, as a letter from NIFA general counsel Jeremy Wise put it, “accurately sets forth all of the current terms and conditions of employment for each bargaining unit.” The county agreed to do so after a NIFA-imposed wage freeze was lifted in 2014.

Brian Nevin, a spokesman for County Executive Edward Mangano, said in an emailed statement that the impact of NIFA’s order “is undetermined at this time because all NIFA asked for was a binder of the agreements.”

Nevin said NIFA “has them already, but didn’t like the order they were arranged. We will be rearranging them so they can better review the contracts and award determinations over the years ... ” Mangano has pleaded not guilty to federal bribery and corruption charges.

NIFA officials said they’ve received copies of only one contract — an assortment of awards, side letters and memorandums of understanding that constitute Nassau’s agreement with the county’s Police Benevolent Association — and nothing more.

“You can’t tell what is in the agreement,” Barsky said. “Nobody knows.”

NIFA says it will not accept tangles of documents. Instead, board members are seeking something that other municipalities around the nation have: A verified summary that details every aspect of a collective bargaining agreement.

Such summaries would become the baseline for bargaining, with all sides able to work from the same provisions. That would allow NIFA’s review of proposed new pacts to determine whether Nassau County can pay for them or not.

Without such summaries, experts said, it’s often possible for municipalities to believe they’ve agreed to one thing, when, in fact, they’ve agreed to something else.

E.J. McMahon, president of the nonprofit Empire Center for Public Policy, an Albany think tank devoted to free market principles, praised NIFA for ordering Nassau to turn over contracts, with the simplified format.

“It is very rare to actually see the guts of any of these contracts ... because the memorandums of understandings and side letters and arbitration rulings are so numerous that nobody can see what’s going on,” said McMahon. “It’s great news, and every other county ought to be doing it.”

Nassau already has started bargaining with its most powerful union, the PBA. Discussions indicate that the union could be willing to alter minimum manning requirements, which tie management’s hands in deciding how police are deployed — but for a price.

The outcome of PBA talks will set the stage for Nassau’s bargaining stand with other unions — whose contracts include “me too” provisions ensuring that no one union gains benefits denied to another.

In years past, a lot has gotten lost in translation, especially when promised savings evaporated. Not this time, said Barsky, noting that NIFA already has hired counsel to help evaluate contract proposals.

When proposed contracts start heading for NIFA approval — assuming the county hands over contracts as ordered — “They are going to have to show us how they are going to pay for this,” Barsky said.

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