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NIFA steps up contracting oversight, but some see backtracks

Adam Barsky, chairman of NIFA, left, speaks during

Adam Barsky, chairman of NIFA, left, speaks during a NIFA meeting in Uniondale, Tuesday evening, May 17, 2016. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

The state board overseeing Nassau’s finances voted Tuesday to increase its scrutiny of county contracts in the wake of several scandals last year involving how county officials award work to vendors.

But in a reversal from its original contract-review plan, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority will not require an accounting of vendors’ donations to political party committees and local clubs, which often have close ties to county leaders.

The contract-review guidelines were first approved by the board in January, but NIFA suspended implementation to allow County Executive Edward Mangano and his staff to offer suggestions.

The guidelines, which largely match disclosure rules approved by the county legislature, require vendors to provide details about contributions to Nassau officials, any relationships with elected officials or county employees, the use of lobbyists and the firm’s incorporation date. The county must also list all bidders on the contract and identify whether the winning vendor offered the lowest price.

But the administration raised concerns about NIFA’s plan to require political club and party contributions, arguing they were not consistent with the county’s new disclosure law.

NIFA Chairman Adam Barsky agreed and recommended eliminating the requirement. He noted that since the legislature does not mandate those disclosures, NIFA’s proposal could have been challenged in court.

“Our guidelines ensure compliance with all legal requirements,” Barsky said.

The board approved the guidelines 4-2.

NIFA member Chris Wright voted against the guidelines, arguing that the changes “gutted” the board’s original intent, adding that the county already requires most of the disclosures.

“It’s difficult to move the county forward when NIFA is perpetually shifting between neutral and reverse,” he said.

Former NIFA board member Adam Haber, who helped write the contract guidelines, said he was “dismayed” with the change. “We cannot allow these guidelines to become toothless fodder that masquerades as reforms,” said Haber, a Democrat who left the board to run for State Senate.

County Attorney Carnell Foskey has said “political organizations have no role in the awarding of contracts and all of their contributions are publicly available on the Board of Elections website.”

NIFA must approve all contracts over $50,000.

The guidelines come as federal prosecutors are investigating a $12 million county contract signed by Mangano’s chief deputy, Rob Walker, on the same day in 2014 the vendor contributed to Walker’s Hicksville GOP club.

In 2015, then-state Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) was charged in a federal corruption case involving a county stormwater treatment contract that went to a firm employing his son. Newsday later reported that 80 percent of agreements for specialized services, such as the stormwater pact, do not go to the lowest bidder.

Skelos and his son, Adam, were convicted in the case in December and are appealing.

Mangano recently hired an investigations commissioner — separating those duties from Foskey — and a procurement compliance chief. NIFA had recommended both hires in a resolution last month.

With Paul LaRocco

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