Nassau County Executive Laura Curran has withdrawn a proposed $500,000 contract for an “integrity monitor” to oversee construction of a new $50 million police academy because of legislators' concerns about preferential treatment and the selection process.
Curran, a Democrat, made the move despite assurances last week from the county attorney that her administration had followed all "standard government practice,” in choosing Exiger LLC.
Lawmakers questioned whether the Manhattan-based firm received preferential treatment, noting it was chosen for the police academy contract soon after the firm had publicly offered to provide Nassau with a different service: 18 months of free online monitoring of county vendors.
Legislators also expressed concern about possible conflicts of interest involving their independent inspector general, Jodi Francese, who participated in selecting Exiger even though her job requires her to review the county procurement process.
The administration abruptly pulled the contract for the academy project from legislative consideration at 4:46 p.m. Monday after weeks of questions, primarily from Republican county legislators. Curran spokeswoman Chris Geed said the county will rebid the contract, which is expected to take six months.
Officials broke ground in May on the 89,000-square-foot police academy on the Nassau Community College campus in Garden City. The project will still go forward despite the rebidding.
The Nassau County Training and Intelligence Center, which will also house an intelligence and counterterrorism unit, is to open in mid-2021,
Geed earlier had denied any preferential treatment for Exiger and defended its selection. On Monday, she said the administration withdrew the contract “due to the number of legislative questions about the participants in the selection process.”
Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said Monday said he was, “proud to say that after the majority raised questions about the integrity of this contract, the county executive decided to remove it from consideration. We will continue to fight for the taxpayers of this county to ensure every contract the county enters into comes from an open and transparent process.”
Because of doubts about the process, Republican and Democratic lawmakers voted unanimously at a Rules Committee meeting in early June to table the administration’s request to approve a $497,500 contract for Exiger LLC to monitor the police academy project.
County Attorney Jared Kasschau, responding to a Nicolello request for an opinion on the propriety of the deal, last week issued a memo saying the county had followed its procurement procedures and general municipal law.
Kasschau also said the county charter calls for the inspector general, who is independent of the county executive, to monitor, inspect and review all aspects of the county procurement process. Kasschau said those duties include participating in vendor selection.
“Such participation is consistent with standard government practice,” he wrote.
Geed had said in an earlier email that of 11 bidders, “Exiger was the highest rated, the lowest cost and had the best references. We stand by this process.”
In a statement, Nicolello said Republicans “disagree with the County Attorney’s opinion with respect to the role of the Inspector General. The Inspector General was never intended to partner with the administration in procuring contracts. The Inspector General is supposed to be independent of the Administration to question, investigate and raise concerns as she sees fit.”
Nicolello also said the Republican majority still had concerns about the bid process, “especially since the contractor appeared at a press conference and was touted as donating its services.”
Curran held a news conference on Feb. 27 to announce that Exiger was offering its software to Nassau without charge under an 18-month pilot program for vendor monitoring that started March 4. The software would search for potential ethical problems or bribery convictions of county vendors.
Two weeks earlier, Nassau had solicited integrity monitors for another contract to oversee police academy construction. The county selected Exiger for the academy project a month after Exiger started its pilot program.
Chris Prather, Exiger’s managing director and construction monitoring practice lead, told Newsday the two contracts were “wholly unrelated” and were awarded through normal procurement processes.
After learning Curran had withdrawn the police academy contract, Prather said, “We are disappointed, but we look forward to responding to the next request for proposals.”
Lawmakers in June also had questioned why Exiger's disclosure forms for the police academy contract were dated before the county had solicited proposals. John Chiara, Curran’s deputy for compliance, told lawmakers the forms had been submitted for the pilot program. He said he told Exiger officials the forms had to be updated if anything changed.
But Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury) said contractors must continually update their disclosures in writing. “Verbal communication is not enough,” she said, cutting Chiara off. “I personally think we have not put ourselves in the best position to deter people from defrauding this county.”
Lawmakers expressed particular concern when they learned their new inspector general, Jodi Franzese, had been on the selection committee that chose Exiger.
Nassau Democrats for two years had refused to vote for most contracts because they said the county needed an independent inspector general to vet the procurement process.
Their demand came in response to the 2015 indictment — and subsequent conviction — of former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) on federal corruption charges. In part, the charges involved pressuring Nassau to approve a contract with a company that employed Skelos' son.
Republicans agreed to create an independent inspector general position in late 2017. The Legislature hired Franzese in January.
Chiara and Robert Cleary, Curran’s chief procurement officer, both acknowledged at the June Rules Committee meeting that there was an appearance of a conflict of interest for Franzese. Both said they didn’t believe there was an actual conflict.
Legis. Laura Schaefer (R-Westbury) said, “The inspector general is a legislative office. She’s not supposed to be a partner with the administration. She’s supposed to be independent, which is what we were seeking. I think this violates that in many ways.”
Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) said after the Rules Committee meeting, “In everything we fought for, we always said, ‘independent inspector general.’ She has to remember that. That’s what people want. That’s what Nassau County needs. There can’t be any alliance to any branch of government if she’s truly going to be objective.”
Francese did not speak at the June committee meeting. When Newsday asked if it was inappropriate for her to participate in the selection of Exiger, she responded in an email, “No, this office acted in accordance with its statutory mandates.”
At the meeting, Chiara noted the county comptroller also was on the selection committee. Chiara said he didn’t see any other way to handle the contract, “unless you just don’t want an integrity monitor.”
Nicolello said all committee members believed in the usefulness of an integrity monitor.
“But if there’s ever going to be a contract that has to be completely above reproach, not open to any questions whatsoever, it is a contract for an integrity monitor,” Nicolello said. “You can’t have questions about the process of hiring an integrity monitor. It’s self-evident.”