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Nassau Democrats seek to end automatic approval of county contracts

Michael Balboni, a former Republican state senator, speaks

Michael Balboni, a former Republican state senator, speaks during a school safety forum for school administrators at the Huntington Hilton on Jan. 9, 2013. Nassau County awarded Balboni's consulting firm a $200,000 no-bid contract for advice on its police crime lab without legislative approval, records show. Credit: Barry Sloan

Nassau Democratic lawmakers, demanding stronger oversight of county spending, Friday filed legislation to repeal a county charter provision that allows costly contracts to be automatically approved if the legislature's Rules Committee does not act on them within 45 days.

The 45-day rule can prevent the legislature from exercising its "essential checks and balances" on the county administration and leaves the door open "for potential waste, fraud and abuse," the proposed law states.

"For example, personal service contracts that would otherwise be subject to intense scrutiny because of irregularities in the bidding and procurement process, the contractor's background, the duration of the agreement or the level of compensation would nevertheless receive automatic approval if not placed on the Rules Committee agenda to be voted on," the measure says.

But Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said Friday that the little-known rule ensures "that the business of government is not delayed. There is absolutely nothing scandalous or improper in its application where necessary."

Newsday reported Friday that a $200,000 no-bid consulting contract to former Republican state Sen. Michael Balboni for advice on the county's troubled crime lab was approved without a legislative vote in August 2013.

Republican County Executive Edward Mangano's administration had submitted the contract with Balboni's firm, Redland Strategies Inc., on July 10, 2013. But Gonsalves did not call it for a vote on July 29 when it went before the Rules Committee, which has sole authority to approve personal service contracts of $25,000 or more. Her spokesman later said she pulled the agreement because of unanswered questions. Then-County Attorney John Ciampoli declared the contract automatically approved on Aug. 26.

The Mangano administration subsequently extended the contract and increased its initial $75,000 cost to $200,000, records show.

Acting District Attorney Madeline Singas said she is reviewing the 45-day provision as part of an ongoing probe of Nassau's contracting process. She began her investigation after state Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), former Senate majority leader, was charged with illegally influencing the award of a $12 million county contract to a company that employs his son, Adam. Both father and son have pleaded not guilty.

Mangano on Monday will announce the creation of an independent panel to review the county's procurement policy, spokesman Brian Nevin said Thursday.

Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) said Gonsalves would be making a mistake if she doesn't calendar the Democrats' proposal. "It's coming from the public that they want more oversight, not less," she said.

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