A Republican Nassau legislator, in a rare split with the GOP county administration, has scolded County Executive Edward Mangano for allowing vendors to begin work — and even finish their jobs — before lawmakers approve their contracts.
In a letter last Thursday to Mangano, Legis. Howard J. Kopel (R-Lawrence) said that “due to current practices, the Legislature is rendered unable to perform its mandated function” under the county charter to approve contracts and expenditures. As a result, he said, the legislature’s oversight role has become “illusory.”
Kopel asked Mangano to provide an “action plan” to correct the late submission of contracts “as soon as possible.”
Kopel’s letter followed unusual public complaints by Republicans at last Monday’s Rules Committee meeting. Deputy Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) accused the Mangano administration of looking at legislators as a “rubber stamp,” while Kopel said, “We’re not going to sit here and essentially not do our jobs. Our job is to review contracts.”
Of the nearly two dozen contracts the Rules Committee was asked to approve, work had started last year on most of them. A $2 million contract to provide screening for social services assistance had already started and ended.
County procurement compliance director Robert Cleary, who was hired last April, told the committee that the administration is streamlining and computerizing its contracting system.
In a written response to Kopel Friday, Cleary said late contracts have been a problem in Nassau for decades, and that state regulations on social service and health contracts create delays in getting agreements to the legislature. Cleary said he should be able to provide a list of all outstanding contracts and their status to lawmakers by Friday.
Kopel’s letter, copied to the 19 legislators, who are all up for re-election this year, was unusual because Nassau Republicans generally present a united public front despite private disagreements.
The situation is reminiscent of 1999, when GOP lawmakers attempted to separate themselves from then -County Executive Thomas Gulotta, a Republican who was embroiled in a fiscal crisis and an insurance scandal. Democrats that year won control of the county legislature.
Mangano, whose term is up Dec. 31, has pleaded not guilty to federal charges that he traded county work for gifts from local restaurateur Harendra Singh. His wife has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of lying about a $450,000 job she received from Singh.
Mangano has said he has no plans to resign before his corruption trial begins next January.
While Mangano’s trial looms, former Republican State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre is appealing his conviction on federal charges that include improperly influencing the award of a Nassau contract to a firm that employed his son.
Kopel denied in an interview that Mangano’s legal troubles prompted his complaints, saying he has objected to the late delivery of contracts for some time. Kopel also said his letter had nothing to do with his contemplated run for county comptroller this fall.
“The fact is I’m frustrated,” Kopel said. “We do have a job and the job is not to be, as Mr. Nicolello has said, a rubber stamp.”
Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said, “We welcome Legislator Kopel in joining us in our anti-corruption, pro-transparency quest to not allow for the filing of last-minute contracts that prevents the legislature . . . (from) providing the oversight necessary to keep the Mangano administration in check.”