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Nassau's GOP-led ethics board under fire

A file image of Nassau Minority Leader Kevan

A file image of Nassau Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (right) with Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano (left). Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau's legislative Democrats are calling on County Executive Edward Mangano to dismantle the county ethics board and appoint all new members, according to a letter sent Thursday that questions the objectivity of the Republican-dominated board.

The request made by Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) follows the ethics board's May 10 ruling that found that Public Works Commissioner Shila Shah-Gavnoudias did not break the law when she signed off on a contract for her sister's engineering firm without disclosing the relationship to lawmakers.

The five-member board's Republican majority, appointed by Mangano, voted in favor of the ruling, prompting the board's sole Democrat, Stephen Turman, a Garden City attorney, to resign, calling the investigation process a "fabrication."

"The current Board, dominated and controlled by your appointees, has repeatedly engaged in what we regard to be serious abuses and misjudgments," Abrahams wrote in the eight-page letter addressed to Mangano, the board's legal counsel Steven Leventhal and County Attorney John Ciampoli, who also sits on the board.

Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said he had not received the letter, but described the issue as "petty politics."

Abrahams called the procedures used by the board to reach its decision a "sham" because Shah-Gavnoudias was interviewed by phone instead of in person, and board members were given "very little time to review" the advisory opinion drafted by Leventhal on behalf of the board before taking a vote. Turman also complained he did not have access to all of the supporting documents used to reach the decision.

In the ruling, the board states Shah-Gavnoudias was not required to disclose the relationship because she did not have a financial stake in CSM Engineering, a Uniondale firm owned by her sister, Carolyn Shah-Moehringer, that was awarded a $250,000 contract, and was not involved with the firm's selection process.

But Abrahams said: "We believe that she had a clear affirmative duty to disclose her family relationship to the members of the committee and that her failure to do so was misleading."

Abrahams disputed the impartiality of board members Owen Smith, John E. Ryan and Albert D'Agostino, who he said "owe" their appointments to Mangano, and complained that Ciampoli should have recused himself from the case because his office is involved with overseeing county contracts.

Ciampoli said there was no conflict of interest because "it's not me personally that's reviewing all of these contracts."

Ryan said the letter was "unfortunate, because we're all volunteers." Smith and D'Agostino could not be reached for comment.

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