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Nassau County: Appointee financial disclosure forms going digital

County Executive Laura Curran said having the forms submitted electronically will both enhance transparency and improve the usefulness of the information in the contract compliance and ethics review process.

Nassau County officials announced on Friday that 700 Nassau political appointees now must submit their financial disclosure forms electronically. Nonunion county employees, including elected officials, department heads, their deputies and a host of other officials in "policymaking positions" are required to submit statements of financial disclosure annually to the Nassau Board of Ethics by May 15. (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

More than 700 Nassau political appointees are now required to electronically submit financial disclosure forms meant to monitor potential conflicts of interest and abuses of power, County Executive Laura Curran said Friday. 

Nonunion county employees, including elected officials, department heads, their deputies and a host of other officials in "policymaking positions" are required to submit statements of financial disclosure annually to the Nassau Board of Ethics by May 15.

Those forms, which spell out an official's previous jobs, outside income, personal investments, existing debt and affiliations to local political groups, historically have been submitted on paper and left in cardboard boxes in the basement of county buildings, officials said.

Curran said the digitized information is meant for review by the county's five-member Board of Ethics and Nassau's new Office of Inspector General. Members of the media and the public would not have access to the database and would need to file a Freedom of Information Law request to obtain and view any of the disclosures. That was also true with the paper forms.

"This is something that the Board of Ethics has adopted and that we are going to make available to them," Curran said. 

Curran said a decision about whether to make the information publicly available is up to the Board of Ethics — a body appointed to five-year terms by county executive. The board members are County Attorney Jared Kasschau, private sector attorneys Kenneth Gartner, Michael Pernick and Christopher Devane, and former Nassau Supreme Court Justice Daniel Palmieri. 

Lexi Faunce, a spokeswoman for Reclaim New York, a Manhattan-based conservative advocacy group, said the lack of public disclosure "is unacceptable."

"The public should be able to see the conflicts of interests of county political appointees. The fact that these forms are digital should make it easier, not harder, for the county to comply with basic open government standard,” Faunce said.

Curran said having the documents available electronically will improve their usefulness in the contract compliance and ethics review process.

“Our residents are sick and tired of a culture of corruption that allows grifters and special interests to line their pockets on the public dime," said Curran at a news conference in Mineola Friday. "It doesn't just have a cost that takes a serious toll on our fiscal health. It also leads to bad decisions, inefficient outcomes and a government with broken machinery."

Digitizing the byzantine financial disclosure forms was among the key suggestions by Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas in a 2015 report detailing deficiencies in the county's contracting and ethics processes.

Singas said Friday that the old, outdated paper forms were largely useless in spotting conflicts of interest. Key portions of information, she said, would often be left out and, handwritten sections were often largely illegible. "Those seeking to avoid disclosure could do so with impunity," Singas said.

This new electronic system, officials said, will interface with Nassau's existing contract and vendor tracking systems.

Nassau's financial disclosure forms were a key topic at former County Executive Edward Mangano's corruption retrial, which ended in a conviction for the Bethpage Republican earlier this month.

Prosecutors alleged that Mangano took bribes from restaurateur Harendra Singh — including two luxury chairs worth more than $6,000, a watch for one of his sons worth $7,3000, and hardwood flooring for his bedroom — but never listed the items on his financial disclosure forms.

Mangano's defense team argued that the items were personal gifts that did not need to be publicly reported.

A federal jury convicted Mangano of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery, federal program bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, honest services wire fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Jurors found Mangano's wife, Linda, guilty of conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice and two counts of lying to the FBI.  

Nassau lawmakers said the electronic disclosures are a good step.

“It makes sense to file these disclosures electronically and the majority will begin doing so for the upcoming filing period,” said Richard Nicolello, presiding officer of the Nassau Legislature.

The state has collected electronic disclosure forms electronically since 1998.

"Nassau has caught up 21 years later," Singas said. 

CORRECTION: The financial disclosure forms will not be available in a public database. The information was incorrect in a previous version of this story. 

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