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Mangano backs panel's recommendations to reform Nassau contracting process

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano speaks on Monday,

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano speaks on Monday, Sept. 15, 2015 in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano agreed on Monday to accept the recommendations of a panel he named to review the county contracting process, including an anti-"pay to play" law that would cap vendors' political contributions.

Mangano, who received the recommendations Friday, said his administration is drafting a new "campaign finance reform act" to submit to the county legislature.

The bill, which Mangano said he expects to submit by year's end, would limit political donations to county office holders and candidates by companies and their principals, that do business with the county. It also would institute a public campaign financing system similar to New York City's, where candidates agree to spending limits in return for public matching funds.

"As long as it's a level playing field, it shouldn't upset anyone," Mangano, a Republican, said of overhauling a system that allows county vendors to make large contributions to candidates. "It's when you create an imbalance that I think you would find pushback."

Mangano also agreed to back the other recommendations of his panel, which consisted of Frank Zarb, a former Nasdaq chairman, Stuart Rabinowitz, president of Hofstra University, and Robert Catell, a former chairman of KeySpan.

The panel called for independent auditors to oversee the county contracting system; mandatory disclosure of vendors' political donations and more public information about agreements that fall below the $25,000 threshold for county legislative approval.

Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said: "We intend to give the panel's recommendations and the county executive's proposals our closest scrutiny."

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said his seven-member caucus would "wholeheartedly" support the campaign finance measures that Mangano described.

"We have been pushing for these changes for four to five months," Abrahams said Monday. "So we are happy to have our position justified."

Mangano said only the campaign finance measures require approval by the county legislature.

Nassau's procurement system has been under scrutiny since a federal indictment this spring of state Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) who is accused of improperly influencing a $12 million storm-water treatment contract that the county awarded to a company that employed his son, Adam. Dean and Adam Skelos pleaded not guilty to charges including bribery.

In response, Mangano in May instituted new lobbying disclosure requirements. He said Monday he also has accepted the Zarb panel's recommendation of a requirement that prospective vendors disclose political contributions when bidding for contracts.

Acting Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas, a Democrat who in July issued a report calling the county's contracting system a "recipe for corruption," Monday renewed calls for the county to name an "inspector general" with the authority to probe contracts. Singas is running for district attorney in November against Republican Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray. To handle the duties of an inspector general, Mangano would create an internal auditor position, as suggested by the panel.

He also backed the panel's call to hire an independent procurement director to oversee the entire contracting process, and increase online postings of contract documents.

Mangano said the procurement director would have a contract to protect against dismissal for political reasons.

"We're clearly embracing their recommendations," Mangano said of the panel. "The goal is to increase transparency and confidence in the system."

With Robert Brodsky

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