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Nassau Democrats push ahead on inspector general ballot vote

Nassau County Democratic Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams speaks

Nassau County Democratic Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams speaks on May 12, 2016, in Mineola. He is seeking a public vote on the measure over county contracts. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau Democrats submitted 4,357 signatures — more than double the amount needed — to the legislative clerk’s office on Friday as they seek a ballot referendum to create an inspector general with oversight over county contracts.

The county charter states that laws can be submitted to voters through a ballot referendum if supporters collect 2,000 signatures, including at least 50 from registered voters in each of 19 legislative districts.

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) urged Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves to allow a public vote on the measure. Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) has declined to call for a vote on previous Democratic bills to create the position.

“If she ignores the petition of more than 4,300 residents, she will blatantly be ignoring the will of the people she serves,” Abrahams said.

It’s unclear whether majority Republicans will allow the measure to get on the ballot for the Nov. 8 general election. If the Rules Committee rejects or tables the measure, the referendum never gets before voters.

“Even though this is a political stunt, the legislation shall be put through the normal course of review,” said Gonsalves, who contends Nassau already has a robust system for reviewing contract proposals.

The petition states that the inspector general would have a six-year term and an employment contract, and could be removed for cause by a supermajority of 13 members of the legislature.

County Executive Edward Mangano contends the position is not needed because Donna Myrill, Nassau’s commissioner of investigations, has oversight of contracts. Democrats say Myrill is not independent because she reports to Mangano.

The ballot referendum comes as Democrats continue to block much of the borrowing needed to fund the county’s $275 million capital budget, citing the need for additional oversight to vet the spending.

The GOP says Democrats are blocking critical projects — the purchase of new county buses, along with sewer and road projects — to advance a political agenda. Bonding requires 13 votes; the GOP has 12 members to the Democrats’ seven.

Nassau contracting has come under scrutiny since 2015 when former state Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) was convicted of federal corruption charges that included influencing the awarding of a county contract to a firm that employed his son, Adam. Dean and Adam Skelos are appealing.

Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas, who recommended the inspector general in a report last year, said “I support this referendum proposal to let the people decide.”

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