Nassau County Republicans have begun a mail campaign to pressure county Democrats to approve borrowing to pay for the county’s multi-million dollar capital plan, which includes funding for bulletproof vests for new police recruits and repair veterans’ housing in Mitchel Field.
Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) sent her third countywide letter Thursday, urging residents to call on Democratic legislators to approve bonding for Nassau’s proposed $275 million capital plan for 2015-16. The plan uses borrowed money to pay for repairing or improving hard county assets, such as roads, parks, equipment and buildings.
Democrats have refused to provide the 12-member GOP legislative majority with the 13 votes needed to borrow unless they and Republican County Executive Edward Mangano agree to hire an independent inspector general to review county contracts.
In letters to community groups and service organizations, Gonsalves accused Democrats of endangering public safety and harming veterans. For example, Gonsalves noted in her first mailing last week that Democrats had voted against mobile computers for new police cars.
“Without installation of this equipment, the integrity of the entire fleet would be in jeopardy, threatening to delay emergency 911 response times,” Gonsalves wrote. “It is not politics that drives this appeal but a legitimate fear that the actions of the Nassau Democrats have made us all less safe.”
Her letters have so angered Democrats that Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said Thursday that he and his caucus will press to put a referendum on the ballot in November to ask voters to approve the creation of an independent inspector general. That official would serve a fixed term rather than at the will of the county executive.
“Norma Gonsalves and the county executive are trying to pull a fast one on the taxpayers and we are not going to accept it,” Abrahams said. “We cannot enable them to have hundreds of millions of dollars at their disposal to dole out to their friends. It is essential to block this bonding and ensure reform.”
Democrats demand for reform began with the indictment and subsequent conviction last year of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Rockville Centre Republican, on federal corruption charges that included influencing the award of a $12 million county contract to AbTech Industries, a firm that employed his son, Adam. The Skeloses are appealing.
During Skelos’ trial, Mangano chief deputy Rob Walker acknowledged that federal prosecutors were investigating him for awarding contracts to political contributors.
Walker has not been charged with any wrongdoing. But prosecutors have subpoenaed records of another county vendor, VIP Splash Waterways Recovery Group Inc., which contributed to Walker’s political club on the same day its $12.2 million contract was finalized.
Mangano has since instituted fuller disclosure requirements for county contractors and hired a separate Commissioner of Investigations. He also hired a procurement compliance director.
Democrats say the new hires cannot conduct independent investigations because they are still subject to firing by the county executive.
Nassau Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs met with Democratic legislators last week but declined to comment on their discussion. But he said, “I will tell you that the caucus would be happy to vote for all of these capital projects ... if we had the slightest amount of confidence that taxpayer money would be spent in a process that is transparent and not prone to the pay-to-play environment the current administration is engaging in.”
“It’s time to stop the Washington-style obstructionism that threatens the health, safety and welfare of our residents and get back to work for the people of Nassau,” Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said.
Police Benevolent Association president James Carver said Thursday that bulletproof vests need to be ordered now for 150 new police recruits. “Public safety should not be compromised in the midst of a contract dispute with the Republicans,” he said.
And Gonsalves spokeswoman Cristina Brennan said Democrats already backed down on the mobile computers because of the letters — though Abrahams said they reversed their vote because they realized computers were needed for new cars financed before they began blocking borrowing.
“They are doing this for headlines, one hundred percent,” Brennan said of the Democrats. “Now they’re also risking public safety.”