The state board that oversees Nassau’s finances on Wednesday overhauled the way it scrutinizes county contracts in the wake of scandals last year involving how county officials award work to vendors.
The Nassau Interim Finance Authority voted 6-1 to formalize changes to its contract-review process that, for the first time, will require the county to provide the board with information about vendors’ political contributions, incorporation dates and whether they were the low bidders.
The county will have 30 days to offer potential revisions.
County legislators recently passed a bill requiring contractors to disclose political contributions to county officials. NIFA will go farther by requiring an accounting of vendors’ donations to the local political clubs that are not officially tied to candidates.
The board also will require Nassau to disclose “any relationship” between vendors and any county official; the identity of all lobbyists involved in the contract and all other bids for the work. NIFA has the authority to approve or reject county contracts exceeding $50,000.
“We are looking for information that would give us a clear pathway to what is behind each contract,” said NIFA chairman Jon Kaiman. “We want a system that everyone has confidence in.”
NIFA member Paul Annunziata, who voted against implementing the changes, argued that the board should wait until the county has time to weigh in.
“We are putting the cart before the horse,” he said.
But NIFA member Chris Wright called the changes “a step in the right direction.” Board member Adam Haber said having all contracting information in one place would offer “less chance of impropriety.”
Newsday has reported that a county storm cleanup contract, now the subject of a federal investigation, was awarded in 2013 to VIP Splash Waterways Recovery Group, which incorporated two days before Nassau first solicited bids for the work.
VIP Splash gave nearly $3,000 to the political club run by County Executive Edward Mangano’s chief deputy, Rob Walker, in 2014, on the day Walker executed an amendment that increased its contract from $4 million to $12 million. Walker denied wrongdoing and has not been charged with a crime.
Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said Nassau “already provides these documents to NIFA — or they are publicly available — and will continue to do so. We assume NIFA members will disclose any relationships they have and contributions they make and receive.”
Newsday reported in September that NIFA had approved more than 99 percent of all contracts submitted by the county since the board took control of Nassau’s finances in 2011. NIFA officials said then that their rules only required contracts to be reviewed for financial impact on the county, not for possible improper political influence. The board said they would consider changing their review standards.
In 2015, after then-state Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) was charged in a federal corruption case involving a county stormwater treatment contract that went to a firm employing his son, Newsday reported that 80 percent of agreements for specialized services, such as the stormwater pact, do not go to the lowest bidder.
Skelos and his son, Adam, were convicted in the case in December.
Newsday later reported that county officials often issued contracts at amounts just below the $25,000 threshold that triggers review by the county legislature.
Mangano, a Republican, last year pushed for disclosure of vendors’ lobbying activity and their political giving. But he has shelved plans to limit the amount of money vendors can donate to county elected officials, or to ban such contributions entirely, after GOP legislators expressed opposition.
The administration of Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano has given NIFA a list of $40 million in potential spending cuts and revenue hikes that could be used to balance the budget in the first and fourth quarters of 2016. NIFA required the quarterly budget reserves when it approved the county’s 2016 budget. NIFA projects the budget has an $80 million shortfall. Officials submitted fourth-quarter numbers now because that period will end before approval of the 2017 budget.
Following are highlights of the county’s plans:
Debt service savings: $12.8 million
Revoking funding for general expenses: $1.8 million
Advance repayment of bonds: $1.4 million
Reduced police overtime: $1 million
Reduced public works department overtime: $920,000
Total: $20 million
Increase in tax map and mortgage recording fees: $16 million
Health insurance savings: $3 million
Revoking funding for general expenses: $1 million
Source: Nassau County