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Top pol asks for ethics probe of finance official

Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) of the Nassau County Legislature Monday again attacked a state board that monitors Nassau's finances, demanding an ethics investigation of a new Democratic member while complaining that the board would not provide an ethics opinion about its chairman.

Schmitt asked the state Commission on Public Integrity to investigate whether Leonard Steinman, an attorney appointed in June to the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, has a conflict of interest because of his past position as a vice chairman of the Nassau Democratic Party, a post Steinman said he resigned before he was appointed to the watchdog agency board.

The Republican also said he will continue to press for an internal opinion pertaining to the propriety of NIFA Chairman Ronald Stack, a Democrat, getting a job at Wells Fargo soon after the previous Democratic county administration transferred $82 million in county operating funds to the national bank.

"There should be no secrets between NIFA and Nassau County because we're paying the bill," Schmitt said. "What's the deal here?"

NIFA's operating costs are paid from Nassau's sales tax collections.

Democrats contend that Schmitt is trying to discredit NIFA before it can criticize fellow Republican Edward Mangano's 2011 budget, due to be released next month. Mangano has already projected a multimillion-dollar shortfall next year.

"The game here is to muddy the waters so much that when the budget comes out, the process has already been tainted," said Legis. Wayne Wink (D-Roslyn).

Steinman said, "This latest baseless personal attack on a member of NIFA's board will not distract us from the serious work that lies ahead."

Schmitt insisted, "I see NIFA becoming a politically motivated board. That's not right and that's not good for the future of Nassau County."

After Gov. David A. Paterson, a Democrat, replaced four members of the seven-member NIFA board, Schmitt in June asked the integrity commission to investigate possible conflicts of interest for Stack and NIFA appointee Thomas Stokes, a top budget adviser to former Democratic County Executive Thomas Suozzi. The commission subsequently cleared Stokes, but has yet to respond about Stack.

Schmitt also submitted a Freedom of Information law request to NIFA for a commission opinion requested by NIFA general counsel Jeremy Wise before Stack took the Wells Fargo job last year. Wise denied the request, calling the opinion "interagency materials" and exempt from the public information law.

To Schmitt, the secrecy is suspicious. If the opinion is favorable to Stack, he said, "It seems to me they would be falling all over themselves to release it."

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