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Nassau lawmakers question planner Jeffrey Greenfield on open space purchases

A longtime member and former chairman of Nassau County’s planning commission told legislators Monday he was unaware of any county open space land purchases that were designed intentionally to benefit politically connected individuals and has worked to create more transparency in those transactions.

Jeffrey Greenfield, a commission member since 2002, said he required individuals and corporations to disclose more information to the county to prevent conflicts after the administration of former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano tried unsuccessfully in 2014 to spend $800,000 to buy a Bethpage property owned by a political appointee, former Deputy Parks Commissioner Frank Camerlengo.

“As a result of that incident, we took a complete look of the disclosure issue. And I stand before you today and say to you . . . I am very proud of the changes because of the fact that we were not told in advance that individual was a county employee,” Greenfield said.

Greenfield’s reappointment, requested by Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, was approved 11-8 by majority Republicans on the Nassau County Legislature. All Democrats voted against the resolution to keep him on the nine-member commission.

Minority leader Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) cited a 2014 letter of Greenfield's that referred to land purchases by “friends and family.” In the letter, Greenfield wrote to Abrahams: “You may recall you voted for land acquisitions during the prior administrations by ‘friends and family.’ ”

Abrahams said the language, “insinuates that either you knew there were friends and families that had connections or this legislative body did. It sounds like to me that you are saying it was a poor choice of words. . . . Now, did you know or did you not know?”

"I think that was taken out of context and I was not insinuating anything. I have no knowledge of anything," Greenfield said. 

At issue was whether Greenfield, 65, was aware of nepotism and political patronage factoring into county land purchases using funds set aside to preserve open space through the 2004 and 2006 Environment Bond Acts.

A Newsday series, “Public Space/Private Benefit,” found $30 million of the $100-million fund was paid to sellers with ties to county politics, the property selection process, or both — and that the county never followed through on many of its promises to enhance access at those sites and others.

Last week, legislative Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) introduced a bill to require the county to provide adequate signage, parking and promotion at its preserves.

County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat, also has asked legislators to estimate the costs to open some of the parcels for public access for possible inclusion in the 2019 executive budget due in September.

Commissioners are considered for reappointment every three years. Greenfield's reappointment was put forth by Curran.

Also Monday, county legislators unanimously approved two bills proposed by Legis. Joshua Lafazan (I-Woodbury) to create a 24-hour telephone hotline and informational smartphone app to help connect people addicted to opioids with substance abuse counselors.

But a request to hire the law firm Dellaverson, P.C. to help negotiate contracts with the county’s five major labor unions was tabled in the Rules Committee after legislators questioned the firm’s fee structure.

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