Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano’s administration on Monday hired a compliance chief to improve accountability in the county’s contracting system — even as some county legislators argued that the position couldn’t be independent.
Joseph LaRussa, 53, of Hauppauge, “came cold” to the administration through a public job posting, and has no ties to Mangano, a Republican, aides said. LaRussa is a registered Republican, but has never made a political contribution in New York, state elections records show.
“I see myself as the ombudsman who ensures the process is handled properly,” LaRussa, who most recently was a procurement specialist at outsourcing consultants Kelly OCG, said in an interview. “There’s no influence factor coming in.”
LaRussa will start March 14 in the $120,000-a-year job created in the wake of several county contracting scandals last year.
Former State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) was convicted of federal corruption charges including influencing the awarding of a Nassau County contract to a firm that hired his son. Skelos is appealing.
Federal prosecutors opened an investigation into Mangano’s chief deputy, Rob Walker, for a contract awarded to a firm that donated to Walker’s political club on the day he finalized the deal.
Nassau also has issued hundreds of no-bid contracts to politically connected firms for amounts just under the legislative approval threshold.
LaRussa said he has never held a public sector job. His resume lists two years at Troy, Mich.-based Kelly OCG, preceded by eight years at CA Technologies, the Islandia company founded by New York Islanders owner Charles Wang.
Kelly officials said they couldn’t speak about current or former employees. A CA spokeswoman confirmed LaRussa’s employment.
Deputy County Executive Ed Ward, who sat on the panel that recommended LaRussa from a pool of 20 applicants, said LaRussa will streamline the contracting process and help create a public database so residents can track agreements through approval. LaRussa also will be able to use investigators from the county attorney’s office in probes, Ward said.
“He’ll have full power to stop a contract anywhere in the process,” Ward said. “It will not proceed unless he’s completely satisfied.”
Legislative Democrats say hiring a procurement compliance director doesn’t reform of a “flawed and broken” system. On Monday, they proposed creation of an independent inspector general, appointed by a supermajority of legislators and given full subpoena power.
“No individual, if they’re hired by the administration, is going to be able to act in an autonomous fashion,” said Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport).
Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said in a statement that a procurement compliance director was “sufficient,” and that Democrats’ inspector general post “would be duplicative.”