Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas on Monday urged the County Legislature’s Republican majority to drop their resistance to an independent office to vet county contracts, saying prosecutions alone aren’t enough of a safeguard.
In an unusual address at the legislature’s meeting in Mineola, Singas, a Democrat, said an inspector general appointed by a supermajority of lawmakers — and not reporting solely to the county executive — is needed to catch wrongdoing in the contracting system before crimes can occur.
“Prosecutions are not a panacea,” Singas said. “Until and unless the systems are in place to protect taxpayer dollars, scandals will continue to plague our county.”
Singas’ address came shortly before lawmakers approved a bill lowering the threshold for a required legislative vote on personal service agreements to $1,000 from the current $25,000.
Later, County Executive Edward Mangano’s administration announced that it soon would fill the county investigations commissioner’s position, whose duties currently are handled by County Attorney Carnell Foskey, a Mangano appointee. Mangano said the investigations commissioner would fill much the same role as an inspector general.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” said Legis. Laura Curran (D-Baldwin), who has requested separation of the investigations commissioner from the county attorney.
Deputy presiding officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said an inspector general’s office was unnecessary, and accused Democrats of engaging in a “power grab.”
In her 25-minute address, Singas urged county legislators to “break free from the chains of partisanship and look at best practices.”
She said Nassau “needs an independent, dedicated, and staffed inspector general’s office equipped with a comprehensive vendor, contract, and public official database system.”
Singas has focused on Nassau’s procurement system since last spring, when former State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and his son, Adam, were charged in a federal corruption case that related in part to the influencing of a Nassau County contract. Skelos and his son were convicted in December and are appealing.
Singas first recommended an inspector general’s office in a report in July. She has repeated the request in statements and letters to Nassau lawmakers.
While the inspector general remains a priority of Democrats, Mangano and the GOP majority are touting numerous other contract reforms they’ve passed since the Skelos case broke.
Lowering the legislative approval threshold, they said, will promote “greater transparency.”
Newsday reported last year that Nassau has recently issued nearly $10 million in contracts valued at just under $25,000. Many were awarded without competitive bidding to politically connected companies.
But Democrats are taking a stand around the inspector general issue. On Monday, they blocked $275 million in borrowing for county capital projects in an effort to force Republicans to establish the office.
GOP lawmakers accused Democrats of delaying funding for items including bulletproof vests for police and handicapped accessible ramps.
“For some headlines and political points, the Democratic legislators are putting public safety at risk,” said presiding officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow).
Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams noted that much of the capital money would go to vendors through county contracts.
“We cannot in good conscience vote for a capital plan without the proper procurement in place,” Abrahams said.
Also Monday, the Legislature approved a deal to settle a dispute over $4.5 million in funding related to New York Islanders’ owner Charles Wang’s failed Lighthouse Project to redevelop the Nassau Coliseum and its surrounding land.
The Islanders will invest $3.5 million at the Northwell Health Ice Center, the team’s new Eisenhower Park practice facility. The team also will spent $1 million for improvements to the ice rink at Cantiague Park in Hicksville, where it had planned to practice before buying Northwell.
With Robert Brodsky