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Nassau Legislature votes to create inspector general for contracts

Nassau County Legislative Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves, seen

Nassau County Legislative Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves, seen on March 21, 2016, called the legislature's vote Monday to create an inspector general position a compromise. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Nassau Legislature’s GOP majority reversed course Monday and voted to create an inspector general’s position to oversee county contracts. The vote came after Republicans had spent nearly two years rejecting efforts by minority Democrats to create the position.

But the bill, approved unanimously by the GOP-controlled Rules Committee, breaks with past Democratic proposals by allowing the legislative majority to hire or terminate the inspector general in a majority vote.

The inspector general also could not investigate legislative operations. The GOP will have an 11-8 majority beginning in January.

Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) called the GOP measure a compromise. “This county can withstand no more gridlock over this issue and we are prepared to turn the page,” she said.

Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) said the inspector general should be picked by a 13-member supermajority of the Legislature. “We need to do this right; otherwise it’s no better than we have now,” she said.

The inspector general would have broad authority to investigate waste and fraud in county operations and contracting and have the power to subpoena witnesses in investigations.

The GOP bill would require the inspector general to have at least two years’ experience in law enforcement or as a prosecutor, judge, certified public accountant or internal auditor.

County Executive-elect Laura Curran, a Democrat who takes office Jan. 1, called the bill “a step in the right direction” but said it doesn’t go far enough to protect the IG from political interference.

“An inspector general that can be appointed or removed by a simple majority in the Legislature is not really independent,” Curran said. “My hope is that we can sit down now with both sides of the aisle and hammer out a bipartisan inspector general bill we all can be proud of.”

The measure will go before the full Legislature Dec. 18.

Minority Democrats have lobbied for creation of an inspector general for contracting since March 2016, holding up hundreds of millions in borrowing in an effort to force the GOP majority’s hand.

Gonsalves and County Executive Edward Mangano had said the county’s commissioner of investigations already had the power to oversee contracting. Gonsalves did not seek re-election, and Mangano did not run for a third term as he fights federal corruption charges.

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. Skelos’ conviction was overturned but prosecutors plan to retry him.

Also Monday, the Rules Committee:

  • Approved an amendment to Nassau Events Center’s lease for the Nassau Coliseum site. The change extends until December 2018 NEC’s deadline to find a minor league hockey team to play at the arena.

The extension allows the county to try to negotiate with the New York Islanders to return to the Coliseum temporarily. The team would not play at the Coliseum if it’s already occupied by an AHL minor league team.

  • Passed a bill, first proposed by Democrats, that would limit the county executive’s ability to appoint acting department heads or members of county boards or commissionsfor indefinite periods of time without legislative confirmation. The bill would require legislative approval of any individual serving in an acting capacity for longer than six months.
  • Approved a measure, in a party-line vote, allowing departing Mangano administration appointees to collect termination payments in lump sums. Payments to appointees of more than $5,000 are currently spread out over three years.
  • Appointed or reappointed more than a dozen Mangano administration appointees to commissions, departments and boards. County Attorney Carnell Foskey, who is retiring Dec. 28, was appointed as a commissioner to the Civil Service Commission and would receive a salary of $20,000.

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