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Nassau Republicans pledge to tighten scrutiny of county contracts

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano speaks at Crest

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano speaks at Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury Friday, June 12, 2015. Credit: Barry Sloan

Amid continuing investigations of Nassau’s contracting procedures, county Republican leaders have agreed to increase public scrutiny by dropping the threshold required for a legislative vote on county contracts from $25,000 to $1,000.

County Executive Edward Mangano and Norma Gonsalves, presiding officer of the county legislature, said in a joint interview Wednesday that they had reached an agreement for the legislature’s Rules Committee to vote on all contracts of $1,000 and more. Currently, the county executive alone can execute contracts under $25,000 while the Rules Committee approves those costing $25,000 and more.

Mangano and Gonsalves said county lawyers were drawing up a local law and the Republican-controlled county legislature would likely consider it Monday.

The county executive’s office for years has provided lawmakers notice of all executed contracts below $25,000, which were listed on the bottom of the legislative calendar. As part of a series of reforms, Mangano recently began sending lists of pending contracts for posting on Rules Committee agendas.

Dropping the approval threshold to $1,000 “is just belt-and-suspenders transparency. We’re putting them out there for debate and discussion and then voting on these contracts prior to execution,” Mangano said.

Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said additional transparency is worth the extra work. “We are so used to working very hard, it’s not going to be burdensome. If it’s the right thing to do, we’re going to be doing it.”

Nassau Republican Chairman Joseph Mondello also is in favor of the change. He said he called a meeting at Republican headquarters Tuesday to hear about the plan.

“I think that all government is in need of transparency,” Mondello said. “I am absolutely in favor. Politically speaking, it’s the way to go.”

Mondello acknowledged that the county party is “taking a beating with these contracts.”

Controversy over the county’s contracting procedures system erupted last year when former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) was charged in federal court with influencing the county to award a $12 million contract to a company that employed his son. Skelos and his son were subsequently convicted of corruption and Skelos lost his public office.

Mangano’s chief deputy, Rob Walker, admitted under a grant of immunity during the trial that he was being investigated in a separate federal probe for allegedly awarding county contracts to campaign contributors. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas is probing a series of contracts that fell below the $25,000 threshold. Newsday reported that Nassau had issued hundreds of those contracts since 2011, many to politically connected companies.

Recently prosecutors requested copies of two county contracts, both under $25,000, awarded to BluChip Marketing, a Suffolk company owned by Karin Murphy Caro, who last month was tied to Mangano through reported sexually suggestive text messages. A Nassau County Police investigation determined the texts were a “hoax.”

Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury) said Democratic lawmakers have proposed “a whole array of ideas that could tighten up the entire system. Certainly this would be a step in the right direction.”

She added, “If they didn’t abuse the $25,000 threshold, none of this would be necessary.”

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