County Executive Edward Mangano Thursday gave up his fight to bypass the county legislature when hiring outside legal counsel, ending the likelihood of a nasty legal battle between Nassau elected officials.
In a statement, Mangano said that he has directed County Attorney John Ciampoli to abide by a charter amendment approved by 76 percent of Nassau voters 10 years ago that requires all professional service contracts for more than $25,000 be sent to the county legislature's Rules Committee for approval.
"While the county attorney has expressed valid issues concerning the need for outside counsel, an open government is most important to me," Mangano said. "Therefore, to preserve that utmost transparency, the county attorney will be forwarding such contracts for approval."
Ciampoli unleashed a political firestorm last week when he announced that he would no longer seek legislative approval for special counsel contracts, arguing that a 1960s provision in the county charter exempted the county attorney from the 2000 amendment.
Ciampoli contended the amendment's requirements would hamstring him in emergencies while burdening his reduced staff with unnecessary paperwork. He also released a list of more than 20 lawyers and law firms he had already hired at a cost of more than $1.7 million; many had political connections, including the law firm where Nassau GOP chairman Joseph Mondello serves as counsel.
Democratic lawmakers threatened to sue if Mangano, who had supported the referendum as a Republican legislator from Bethpage, did not comply with its requirements. Their lawyers contended the 2000 charter change clearly overrode the section cited by Ciampoli. They also noted the amended charter allows for emergency responses.
"I am pleased that the administration came to its senses," said Minority Leader Diane Yatauro (D-Glen Cove.) "The Democratic caucus spoke clearly from the beginning on this: No secret sweetheart contracts for political insiders. The county had to abide by the charter and the voters' will as expressed in the 2000 referendum."
Yatauro asked Comptroller George Maragos, who had not paid any of these legal bills because of the dispute, to send them back to the legislature for approval.
Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) said, "I was confident from the beginning of this that the county executive and I would be able to achieve a solution. Now perhaps we can turn our full attention back to cleaning up the mess the Democrats have left us."
The county executive's reversal came after Mondello called Mangano and Schmitt to a meeting at Republican headquarters Thursday morning. Sources say Mondello alternately harangued and pleaded with them to consider the public reaction and follow the $25,000 rule.
Mondello Thursday declined to comment. But earlier this week he said he believed outside legal contracts should go to the legislature.
Schmitt said Mondello had not told him or Mangano what to do on this or any other governmental issue. "Mondello doesn't tell either one of us to do anything. He looks out for us and gives us advice," Schmitt said.
A Mangano spokesman did not return messages for comment.