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Nassau inspector general vote likely is dead, Democrats say

Nassau County Democratic Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams in

Nassau County Democratic Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams in Mineola, May 12, 2016. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau Democrats say a referendum to create an inspector general to vet county contracts is unlikely to make it onto the Nov. 8 ballot as the deadline for legislative approval will pass before lawmakers hold their next meeting.

Democrats last month submitted ballot petitions with 4,357 signatures to the legislative clerk’s office — more than double the amount needed — in an effort to get the referendum before voters during the November general election.

But the proposed local law allowing the referendum is still under review by County Attorney Carnell Foskey.

The county charter mandates the law must clear the GOP-controlled Rules Committee and the full 19-member legislature, and then be signed by the county executive, at least 60 days before the public vote.

That approval process would need to be completed by Sept. 8. The legislature does not meet again until Sept. 12.

Democratic Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said the clock was running out on his ballot proposal.

“It’s clear Republicans don’t want a light shined on the county’s contracting process,” he said. “I don’t see why Foskey’s analysis is taking so long.”

In a statement, Foskey said the legislation is “being reviewed both as to form and substance. Issues being examined include whether the legislation is constitutional and whether the county legislature has the authority to enact it.”

Foskey will not challenge the validity of the signatures on the petitions, county officials said. Democrats needed to collect 2,000 valid signatures, including at least 50 from registered voters in each of 19 legislative districts

Cristina Brennan, a spokeswoman for Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow), declined to comment, saying the bill has not been submitted to the legislature.

Brennan said there is “discussion” about reconvening the legislature sometime in the next few weeks to vote on the proposed Garvies Point waterfront redevelopment in Glen Cove. But there has been no discussion about voting on the referendum, Brennan said.

Gonsalves says an inspector general is unnecessary and the referendum is a “political stunt” by Democrats.

The petition circulated by Democrats says the inspector general would have subpoena power and a budget to hire staff. He or she would have an employment contract for six years and could be removed only for cause by a supermajority of 13 members of the legislature.

In an effort to force Republicans to approve an inspector general, Democrats for the past six months have blocked much of the borrowing needed to fund the county’s $275 million capital budget. Bonding requires 13 votes; the GOP has 12 members to the Democrats’ seven.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano says an inspector general is unnecessary because Donna Myrill, Nassau’s new investigations commissioner, oversees contracts.

Abrahams argues that Myrill reports to Mangano and lacks the necessary independence to scrutinize contracts.

Nassau’s contracting process has been under scrutiny since last year, when former state Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) was convicted of federal corruption charges that included influencing the awarding of a county contract to a firm that employed his son, Adam. Dean and Adam Skelos are appealing.

Abrahams said Democrats do not support a stand-alone referendum vote on the law after the November election, arguing the move would be a “waste of taxpayer dollars.”

In 2011, Democrats criticized Mangano’s decision to stage a stand-alone referendum on whether to use $400 million in taxpayer money to build a new Nassau Coliseum. The referendum, which was rejected, cost taxpayers $2 million, officials said.


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