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Laura Curran orders no-gift policy for employees involved in contracting

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran on Monday, Feb.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018, in Mineola. Curran signed an executive order barring county employees involved with procurement or contracting procedures from accepting gifts of any kind from county vendors, no matter how small. Credit: Howard Schnapp

No free golf. No free tickets to football games. No gift cards. Not even a free cup of coffee is allowed under a new executive order signed by Nassau County Executive Laura Curran Monday.

The Democratic county executive, who took office last month, announced “a zero-tolerance policy” for county employees involved with procurement or contracting procedures accepting gifts of any kind from county vendors, no matter how small.

She also said vendors must disclose whether they employ any family members of county workers in the department or agency handling their contracts.

“There’s an old saying that, ‘Business gets done on the golf course.’ Today we say not in Nassau County, not anymore,” Curran said at a news conference in Mineola. Accepting favors, she contended, “is part of the culture.”

Curran did not say how many employees were affected by the order; nor did she disclose penalties for violating it.

Previously county employees could not accept gifts worth $75 or more. Curran said the new policy “takes the analysis out of” trying to figure out the value of a perk from a vendor.“ People with good intentions can sometimes go astray.”

County government “has been plagued by a culture of corruption and favoritism due to lack of controls on the county’s contracting and procurement,” Curran said. “My administration is dedicated to promoting a culture of transparency and accountability, free of corruption and fraud.”

The Republican majority on the county legislature “joins with County Executive Curran in condemning either the solicitation or acceptance of anything of value by any county official connected with the procurement process or the approval of contracts between private vendors and the County,” said presiding officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park). “It goes without saying that such behavior will not be tolerated.”

Curran made no mention of her predecessor, former Republican County Executive Edward Mangano, who goes on trial next month in federal court on charges of taking bribes and gifts from indicted restaurateur Harendra Singh.

Mangano’s wife, Linda, is charged with accepting a no-show job from Singh. Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto also faces corruption charges related to Singh.

All three have pleaded not guilty.

Asked if Curran’s new policy was prompted by the arrest last week of Mangano’s chief deputy Rob Walker, who was charged with lying to the FBI about accepting $5,000 and a trip to a Notre Dame football game from an unidentified county vendor, Curran said, “This is something we’ve been working on. The timing is interesting.”

Walker has pleaded not guilty.

Also Monday, the legislature agreed to advertise for an independent inspector general — a position advocated by Democrats and later Republicans after former State Senate Majority leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and his son, Adam, were convicted in 2015 on corruption charges involving a Nassau contract. Both are appealing.

Curran said she will be adding more checks to the contracting process and will reorganize procurement policies.

Nassau added more reviews to its contracting process in 1999 after a health insurance scandal cost the county $70 million. During a federal investigation of political-insider bribery and corruption, no Nassau official acknowledged actually reading the contract for county employee health coverage through Benefit Plan Administrators.

Those additional reviews were subsequently criticized as too cumbersome and complicated. Curran said the plan is to reform the process while not increasing red tape.

Although Helena Williams, Curran’s chief deputy county executive, wrote the county’s existing procurement policy when she was a deputy for former Democratic County Executive Thomas Suozzi, Curran said, “We adapt to changing times.”

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